Are Lebanon and Israel Headed for War?

Experts fear Mideast tensions are so high that a small incident could spark war.

ByABC News
February 12, 2010, 9:20 AM

BEIRUT, Feb. 15, 2010— -- To the casual observer, people on the streets of Beirut show no fear of war. But talk to many Lebanese today, and you'll soon find war is very much on their minds.

All the people ABC News spoke to say conflict with Israel is looming. It's just a matter of when.

Neither side wants to be guilty of starting the next war, but people in Lebanon say tension is now so high the smallest incident may provide the trigger.

And the next round of hostilities, they warn, will be much broader and more terrible than the last war when Hezbollah battled the Israeli army in 2006.

There are old scores to settle. Hezbollah wants to avenge the assassination of its military mastermind Imad Mugniyeh. Last Friday marked the second anniversary of his mysterious car bombing death in Damascus. Hezbollah also claims Israel still occupies a sliver of Lebanese territory in the south. It is ideologically opposed to Israel's very existence.

The Israelis fear Hezbollah's growing arsenal of long range rockets. They fear for their biggest cities and strategic targets. They see Hezbollah and Syria as Iran's proxies, liable to attack from the north if Israel strikes Iran's nuclear sites. Hezbollah fought the once feared Israeli Defense Force to a standstill in 2006. The Jewish state's reputation and deterrence was severely dented. The Israelis have unfinished business.

Hezbollah today has somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 missiles, many more than in 2006, and many capable of hitting targets deep inside Israel. The U.N. patrols the south near the Israeli border so Hezbollah has moved north and into the Bekaa valley. Almost the entire local male population of fighting age has been through military training. Hezbollah leaders talk of military "surprises." No one we spoke to knows what they might be.

Many people speak of Hezbollah changing tactics, even of infiltrating northern Israel. There's talk of plans to take hundreds of Israeli civilians hostage.