With a startled shout from the outcrop above, the Hizballah fighter bounded down the rocky slope and cocked his AK-47 rifle in a dramatic flourish as he drew near. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, his face a mix of anger and astonishment. “This is a military zone. You should not be here.”
It turned out that the youthful militant had been guarding a small outpost created by Shi’ite militia on a remote mountaintop in south Lebanon. The location was well chosen, offering the Hizballah men commanding views over the hills and valleys of the southern Bekaa Valley, a likely battlefront if a widely anticipated — and feared — war breaks out between the Iran-backed group and Israel. (See rare pictures of Hizballah’s youth movement.)
Whether these rugged hills will see yet another war depends less on the likely combatants than on the U.S. and Iran. Hizballah is viewed as one component of Iran’s deterrence against a possible attack on its nuclear sites, should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the standoff with the West over its enrichment of uranium. And recent conversations with Hizballah fighters reveal an organization at the peak of its military powers, with an army of well-trained, disciplined and highly motivated combatants wielding advanced weaponry, cultivating new tactics and brimming with confidence.