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Syria, Hizbullah, Iran prepare in case of war

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"If any of us had a 1 percent doubt that Israel was going to reply in this savage manner, we wouldn't have captured those soldiers," he said in a television interview.

President George W. Bush has vowed to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions by the time he leaves office in early 2009.

Although the White House says it is pursuing diplomacy to achieve its goal, it refuses to rule out the military option. The recent disappearance of a senior Iranian general, the arrests of Iranian diplomats in Iraq, and the deployment of US naval battle groups in the Persian Gulf have raised expectations in the region that a US attack on Iran may be imminent.

"US threats against Iran are no longer regarded by the Iranians and Syrians as just saber-rattling, and it's only natural that they prepare themselves," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut.

Hizbullah officials and fighters say that the party has launched an intensified training program with new recruits pushed through month-long courses in camps scattered along the flanks of the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. Veteran fighters receive refresher courses and can volunteer for 45-day programs to join special-forces units.

"There is a high level of recruitment. The rearmament is happening because there will be a war with Syria. The Israelis cannot accept the insult of the July war," says Mohammed, a Hizbullah activist in Beirut, referring to last summer's conflict.

Analysts suspect, however, that Israel will bide its time to absorb and apply the lessons learned from last summer's conflict before contemplating a second round with its Lebanese foe.

Nawaf Mussawi, Hizbullah's foreign affairs adviser, says he doubts that Israel's government is strong enough domestically to persuade the public to support a second major war against Lebanon. But, he adds, Hizbullah "is ready for all eventualities."

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