Israeli defense officials believe Hezbollah has been trying to establish a strategic foothold in the Syrian Golan Heights to facilitate attacks on Israel from that area, Israel Hayom has learned.
Although the organization still has a long way to go before it has a permanent presence in the area, its leader, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, has recently indicated the existence of such a plan. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has made similar comments, saying there was popular pressure inside Syria to open a front against Israel on the Golan.
Hezbollah may have concluded that the ongoing instability and the incessant battles between the rebels and the regime loyalists in the Golan Heights presents a fleeting opportunity to establish a base of operations in the area before it falls under the control of the rebels, should that happen.
While Israeli officials believe Hezbollah's new infrastructure would not be set up "overnight," they stress that Hezbollah is determined to put this plan into action as part of its efforts to prop up the Syrian regime with the help of Iran.
For Iran and Hezbollah, keeping Assad in power is paramount. Without a friendly Alawite regime, their regional standing and overall clout would be severely compromised. As a result, they are working overtime to make sure such a strategic unraveling does not take place.
Several thousand Hezbollah fighters, some of whom hail from its elite units, are taking an active role in the fighting in Syria, and have reportedly been using rockets and anti-tank missiles on rebels. Last week they commandeered old Russian-made Syrian tanks and used them to fight the rebels in Qusayr, a contested town on the Syria-Lebanon border. The number of Hezbollah fatalities ranges from 50 to 60, according to various sources.
Hezbollah and Iran have contingencies in place in the event of a regime change, and have been gradually assembling a "popular army" of Syrian Alawites and Shiites. This force is not based on the members of the Syrian military but rather on outside personnel. It currently comprises 100,000 to 150,000 members.
If the regime crumbles, something that is looking increasingly unlikely, the militia's overarching mission would be to protect the Shiite and the Alawite communities in Syria. Its members are currently undergoing training and collecting arms even as they fight alongside the Syrian army.
Hezbollah has tried to use the situation in Syria to lay its hands on strategic arms such as the SA-17 air defense systems, Russian-made Yakhont coastal missiles and Fateh-110 missiles (a shipment of which Israel allegedly attacked several weeks ago).
Israeli officials believe Hezbollah has been unfazed by the reported Israeli interdiction efforts and it still eyes game-changing weapon systems. They note that no deliveries have been attempted since the supposed Israeli attack, although the organization hopes to outsmart Israel the next time a delivery gets underway by avoiding the mistakes that may have compromised the previous undertaking.
Israeli officials are also concerned about the growing strength of Assad's regime in recent days, Army Radio reported on Monday.
Senior Israeli officials were quoted as saying that "al-Qaida control over Syria would be preferable to a victory by Assad over the rebels."
This view is based on the assessment that a victorious Assad would be much more dependent on Iran than in the past. In such a scenario, Iran would have greater ability to threaten Israel than it does today. Also, the ties between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah would become even tighter, increasing the dangers facing Israel.
Israeli officials said one country in the world was openly seeking the destruction of Israel -- Iran.
"Assad is now Iran," the officials said, making any other group preferable to govern Syria, even al-Qaida or other radical Islamists. "Any of these groups would be less problematic for Israel than an Assad regime that is a puppet of Iran," the report quoted the officials as saying.