by Michel Moutot
war with Israel in the knowledge that the Jewish state will not rest easy with the results of last summer's 34-day conflict, military analysts in Beirut believe.
Since the UN-brokered ceasefire came into force last August 14, the pro-Iran Shiite militia has been steadily gearing itself up for the next round with the same determination and secrecy that have made its reputation, the experts say.
"Immediately after last summer's war Hezbollah began refortifying its positions and working on new ones," said Judith Palmer Harik, author of the book "Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism."
"They are rearming... In fact, there has been no interruption in their receiving of more arms," she told AFP.
The only Lebanese militia allowed its own arsenal by the government, Hezbollah has moved most of its weapons out of the border area with Israel to conform with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the conflict.
A Western military observer in the Lebanese capital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah was now redeploying its arms farther north.
"They left the (border) zone at once," he said. "Last summer, much to their surprise, they found themselves fighting well in front of their strongest lines because the Israeli army halted near the frontier.
"Hezbollah has far stronger positions in the rear, north of the Litani river, that no one knows about and that they are fortifying all the time."
For 24 years Timur Goksel was the public face of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and the former UNIFIL spokesman says it is only a matter of time before war between Israel and Hezbollah breaks out again.
"Israel can't live in the Middle East with the impression that they lost to Hezbollah, a militia," said Goksel, now lecturing at the American University of Beirut.
"Since 1949 they lived on their reputation of the unbeatable Israeli soldier, the invincible Jewish army, the legend. And here comes the Hezbollah who says 'We beat you.' They have to set that correct. They have no other option -- they have to restore their credibility.
He says further conflict is inevitable but not imminent.
"Not now, it will take Israel time to be ready. I'd say two years. Hezbollah knows that very well and they are working on it full-time."
Even in the border zone, patrolled by blue-helmeted international peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, Hezbollah is busy preparing for the next round of hostilities.
The militants are so accepted by villagers in the area that no outsider gets to know what is really going on there.
"Iron discipline reigns within the Hezbollah ranks," the Western military observer told AFP. "Promotion is only on merit and security vetting draconian. They're almost impossible to infiltrate and extraordinarily professional.
Retired Lebanese general Whebe Katisha has no doubt that Hezbollah "has retained its military potential and is preparing for the next assault.
"UNIFIL knows nothing about what's going on in the Shiite zone. It's not an easy situation for the Lebanese army -- we don't have enough numbers, equipment or vehicles."
He said that last month a container full of shells and missiles, sent by Iran via Turkey and Syria, was intercepted.
"Hezbollah is Iran's vanguard against Israel," Katisha said. "If Iran is attacked, everyone knows that the response will begin with Hezbollah."
Shortly after last summer's devastating conflict ended, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the militant group's arsenal had been replenished, and that it now included new weaponry.
"Knowing their organisation, their planning, I think they are going to go more on sophisticated air defence," Palmer Harik said. "Hezbollah is a great mixture of traditional guerrilla warfare and very advanced and efficient weapons."
According to Goksel, "Hezbollah knows very well that next time it's going to be different. What did we do wrong last time, what will happen next time? They know the other side is studying too. If it happens tomorrow, they're ready."
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