Hezbollah and Al Qaeda Fighters Edging Closer to Full Scale Confrontation

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Today, Hezbollah is believed to have around 60,000 missiles, capable of hitting every part Israel. The missiles hit by Israel are believed to have been the highly-accurate Iranian-made Fatah-110s. In a televised speech on Wednesday night, Nasrallah said Syria would still give Hezbollah "game-changing weapons it has not had before."

"In the whole of Arab history, no other Arab regime has given us as much as President Bashar al-Assad's regime has," Nasrallah said.

While Israel doesn't expect direct, major retaliation, there's little doubt Hezbollah will respond somehow.

"Those who want an immediate response should look in the direction of Iran and Hezbollah," wrote the editor-in-chief of Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, on Thursday. "There are enough indicators on that front to suggest that there is no escaping some kind of reply."

Syria's conflict is often described as a "civil war," but that is only true insofar as it has yet to spill over into another country on a large scale or draw in too many different forces. But it is the quintessential proxy war, with the Alawite (an offshoot of Shia Islam) Assad regime backed up by Shia allies Hezbollah and Iran, as well as Russia and China. The Sunni rebels are supported by the Islamist rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, as well as the U.S., France, Britain and others.

As the fighting grows among the regime, its ally Hezbollah and the Sunni jihadists, the U.S. had treaded cautiously to avoid inflaming the conflict to the point of boiling over. But the spillover violence could force their hand.

"America could get sucked into this because they have alliances with all of Syria's neighbors," said Tabler. "They don't want to help either side but that fighting is going to destroy Syria as we know it today."

In December, Syrian rebels burned down a Shiite mosque in northern Idlib province. Fighting between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra is being waged closer and closer to the Zeinab shrine. Shiite villages are coming under attack by militants who praise Osama bin Laden and Sunni villagers are being slaughtered by regime loyalists. Sectarian fighting has already leaked across the border into northern Lebanon. The stage has been set.

"When Hezbollah and Israel are both actively fighting in the same third country," writes Ramy Khoury, a professor of international affairs at the American University of Beirut, "and Iran and the United States are both actively warning about their determination to act to protect their allies and their interests in that same third country, it is time to make another pot of coffee and make sure you have plenty of fresh batteries at home for your transistor radio."

Nasser Atta contributed to this report.

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