Three years after Israel fought a bloody war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, there are growing fears that hostilities could erupt again this time with the militant group better armed than ever.
According to Israeli, United Nations and Hezbollah officials, the Shia Muslim militia is today stronger than it was in 2006 when it took on the might of the Israeli army in a war that cost the lives of 1,191 Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians.
Hezbollah has stockpiled up to 40,000 rockets and is training its forces to use ground-to-ground missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv and anti-aircraft missiles that could challenge Israel’s dominance of the skies over Lebanon.
Brigadier-General Alon Friedman, the deputy head of Israel’s Northern Command, told The Times from his headquarters overlooking the Israeli-Lebanese border that the current stability was "in danger."
He added that the peace, which has reigned over the rolling Biblical landscape for the past three years, could "explode at any minute."
His concerns were partly due to threats from Hezbollah’s leadership. Last month, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, warned that if the southern suburbs of Beirut were bombed as they were in the last war, he would strike back against Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city.
"We have changed the equation that had existed previously," he said. "Now the southern suburbs versus Tel Aviv, and not Beirut versus Tel Aviv."
All sides agree that the threat is not a bluff. Last month, the scale of the Hezbollah build-up was revealed after an explosion at a huge Hezbollah ammunition bunker in the village of Khirbet Slim, 12 miles from the Israeli border.
Surveillance footage, obtained by The Times, reveals that Hezbollah fighters desperately tried to salvage rockets and other munitions from the site, while obstructions were placed in the way of Unifil peacekeepers coming to investigate.