Reflecting the high priority of the northern front, the military announced plans this week to create a new army division to oversee the Golan Heights, along the Syrian front, and "address emerging threats" like the one from Hezbollah.
It approved the step even as defense officials slash their budget. The military is turning its forces away from heavy arms like tanks toward non-traditional forms of warfare like the guerrilla battle it faced in Lebanon. Defense Minister Moshe Ayalon said on Thursday that "army-to-army battles of the type we last saw 40 years ago in the Yom Kippur War are becoming less and less relevant," referring to the 1973 conflict in which Israeli forces confronted mass formations of Egyptian and Syrian tanks.
For now, Israeli officials believe neither Syria nor Hezbollah is interested in war. Assad is preoccupied with rebels trying to oust him, and the Israeli military estimates that around 3,000 Hezbollah fighters have entered Syria to aid him. Officials believe the group has lost some 200 fighters.
Such losses have may have weakened Hezbollah in the short term. But officials say Hezbollah's experience in the civil war may prove a valuable training ground. Officials point to the heavy Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian government's attack on the city of Qusair several weeks ago, and said that Israel has seen Hezbollah fighters operating tanks.
In May, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the group would help Syria retake the Golan Heights or accept upgraded arms from its military. "The resistance is prepared to accept any sophisticated weaponry even if it was to break the balance (of force)," he said.
Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said that even a weakened Hezbollah still can hurt Israel.
"In spite of its dire straits situation in Syria, mainly, the way it was equipped with very sophisticated armament and training by states is still posing a threat to Israel," Schweitzer said. No matter how many fighters Hezbollah loses, he argued, it maintains the ability "to send many rockets to Israel to devastate the country."