WASHINGTON – Hezbollah is presently receiving a "constant stream of armaments" from Syria, Iran and other foreign sources, senior Israeli officials said Tuesday, and the terror group is "preparing for violence" in an increasingly radicalized Middle East.
"They are getting all kinds of rockets, advanced anti-tank missiles, command-and-control systems, training, finance," an Israeli official said. Asked if the group has fully reconstituted back to where it was before the war in terms of military capability, the official said: "They are certainly on their way."
The official, a top-ranked officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and an accompanying aide briefed a handful of reporters on the condition the officials' names not be used.
While Hezbollah has been unable to return to, or rebuild, bunkers and other fortifications it was using before the start of last summer's Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Israeli official said the group maintains an "operational" presence along the Lebanese-Israeli border, and cited as evidence the IDF's discovery Monday of a "cluster of explosives" near the border on the Lebanese side.
Enabling Hezbollah's rearmament, the official said, is the "open border" Lebanon shares with Syria, and the lack of "real teeth for enforcement" in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which established a ceasefire in the Israeli-Hezbollah war last August.
At the same time, and in a similar way, the Israeli military officer said, foreign sources are providing Hamas with anti-tank missiles, high-trajectory rockets and missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and their launchers, explosive devices and automatic rifles.
The armament of the Hamas commanders is "intensive" and "incessant," the officer said, and intended for use against both their Fatah rivals and the Israelis.
Since the Israelis disengaged from Gaza, "tons" of weapons and fighters have been, and continue to be, smuggled through Rafah and other points along Gaza's border with Egypt, the IDF officer said. Israel believes the smuggling has only "intensified" since the end of the war last summer.
The official and the aide claimed the IDF has had "no operational activity whatsoever" in Gaza for the last three months, since an informal ceasefire was established between the Palestinians and the Israelis in that area, but that in the same time Hamas fighters have launched more than 100 Qassam rockets across the border aimed at Israeli civilian targets.
As further evidence of the problems originating in Gaza and its porous border with Egypt, the official pointed to the deadly homicide bombing on January 29 in Eilat, the first ever in the southern Israeli resort town, and said IDF officials "know for sure" the bomber came from Gaza.
The official was skeptical about Western plans to shore up the Fatah security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
"Every meeting we have on this subject always ends in the conclusion, 'Bolster Abu Mazen, bolster Abu Mazen' as if that will solve all the problems," the IDF official said. "He was in power two years ago [before Hamas came to power], wasn't he?" the official asked. "What did he do then?"
The official said the Israelis themselves provide Abbas with weapons and money, and that some of the weapons have wound up in the hands of Hamas fighters.
The officials looked with concern on the internecine warfare between Hamas and Fatah, which killed more than thirty people and wounded more than 200 others in clashes over the past week.
"They are killing each other like hell," the official said, "in a very brutal manner."
Even as Hamas and Fatah leaders met in Saudi Arabia for mediation talks, the official foresaw no immediate breakthrough in their efforts to reach a truce and establish a national unity government.
Hamas remains "strong," the officer said, adding "they are far from giving up the power" and equally unwilling to change their ideology, which is sworn to Israel's destruction.