Chemical Weapons in Hezbollah’s Hands?

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A woman receives a gas mask kit at a distribution point in a shopping mall in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem 24 July 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Baz Ratner)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Israel has been insisting that Hezbollah was behind the bombing in Bulgaria, as well as a similar failed attempt in Cyprus, and that it is planning more such attacks against Israeli targets both in the occupied territories and abroad. It has been saying that the party operates cells in cooperation with the Iranians in many parts of the world. People have appeared on cue to reveal information about plans and preparations in the Far East, or details of sleeper cells deployed on the American continent, while the world’s intelligence agencies have stepped up their efforts to provide extra protection to participants at the Olympic Games in Britain.

Israel acts on the premise that Hezbollah is a strong enemy. It has conceded its military and intelligence prowess in the wars it has fought with it in Lebanon and Palestine. It concedes that it strives to make best use of the element of surprise, and has done so often and in a variety of ways and contexts. It has for years – especially since one of its special units succeeded in assassinating Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyeh – been forced to use extra security precautions for personnel, establishments and facilities in Israel and abroad. Israel knows that it committed a major crime against an enemy it always knew would punish it for its deed. But the constant security alert has itself become part of the punishment, leaving some Israeli leaders wishing Hezbollah would get its revenge over and done with.

Israel’s problem with Hezbollah these days is not confined to its charge that it is behind these attacks. It increasingly fears the prospect of the Lebanese resistance’s military capability being given an unprecedented boost as a result of the crisis in Syria. Israeli military chiefs have long acted on the assumption that Hezbollah probably has access to any strategic weapons Syria possesses. What worries them now is that developments could result in Hezbollah gaining sole control of these weapons.

Moreover, they believe that the Syrian crisis, and its impact on the already raging Lebanese crisis, may have freed Hezbollah from certain considerations and constraints, thus leaving it with a freer hand with regard to weaponry, or even to initiating military operations.

Israel, like most of the West, always used to see the Syrian regime as having the virtue of being able restrain the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance. It was the player to address when dealing with tensions related to these forces. But in its current state, it is out of earshot. The threat, therefore, is not just of these forces acquiring such weapons, but of their being able to use them for purposes that may be purely their own.

The enemy’s problem is not with the actual possession of chemical or biological weapons. It knows, as does every industrialized country and every scientist, that it is not difficult or complicated to produce these deadly materials. On the contrary, the spread of scientific know-how over the past three decades has made it possible for many to acquire them if they want to.

Israel’s problem is with the prospect of missiles in the possession of Syria and the resistance in Lebanon, or even in Palestine, being fitted with these weapons. Anyone who can deliver half a ton of high explosives to any point in Israel can do the same with a chemical or biological warhead.

Israel knows, most certainly, that some weapons are there to be owned rather than used. It knows that the value of its nuclear weapons does not lie in their possible use, but in the ability they give it to threaten, and to limit the ambitions of its enemies in any war. Its concern today is that the list of what it has long called “balance-breaking weapons” is no longer confined to Scud missiles and their variants, updated or upgraded air defenses, or high precision long-range missiles. Rather, the term is being redefined in ways that were previously inconceivable. Could Israel live with the idea of an enemy of Hezbollah’s size being able to counter-balance its nuclear arms with weapons no less deadly?

All the above is about preparations for the next war. That is not to call for it to be begun now, though Israel is concerned that its enemies on the northern front may be increasingly motivated to enter into a major confrontation. But Israel and others – particularly the resistance’s detractors in the Arab world – need to know that they are very mistaken in their belief that getting rid of the regime in Syria would in turn rid them of the resistance.

This belief makes doubly alarming the enemy’s resort, with American support, to stoking a climate of sectarian strife in Lebanon. The US is confident that this is the best way of unburdening Israel of the resistance, ignoring the fact – for now – that the initiative is no longer in the hands of only one of the players in the game.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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