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Israel is sending strong, unclear messages on all fronts

June 3, 2023 at 1:43 pm

Jewish settlers block entry and exit roads to Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya town to organise a ritual under the auspices of Israeli forces in Nablus, West Bank on June 01, 2023 [Issam Rimawi – Anadolu Agency]

Israeli political and security officials have launched a simultaneous media attack on Iran. This attack was taken seriously, taking place only days after military manoeuvres by Hezbollah, which simulated kidnapping soldiers and storming settlements. The media attack may pave the way for a third Lebanon war or a first war of the north.

These threats coincide with continued efforts exerted on two axes. The first is to try and prevent the party from strengthening its presence in Syria while maintaining the eroding deterrence against it in Lebanon. The second is related to the fight against the Iranian nuclear programme and fighting freely against it, especially in Syria, as part of the Battle of Megiddo between the wars strategy.

Most Israeli estimates agree that Hezbollah can cause severe damage to Israel at an unprecedented level. The party has become Iran’s right hand, with which it deters Israel, and if Israel chooses to attack Iran, it will use its right hand to hit back with all its might.

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Despite this, any act of aggression that Israel considers targeting what it says are new, fortified nuclear facilities will be met immediately by launching a comprehensive attack by Hezbollah. This includes launching huge, precise missiles at the occupied Palestinian cities, as well as attempts to control the settlements in the north.

Israeli deductions from the recent developments say that Hezbollah must be targeted first, and then Iran, through launching a pre-emptive attack that, if successful, will set the party’s capabilities back many years, thus removing the strongest card in the region from the hands of the Iranians. However, in such cases, the Israeli home front is expected to receive strong blows, and no one knows what they will result in.

At the same time, and in conjunction with all these threats, the Israeli Air Force has not been instructed to be on alert, and there are no restrictions on the movement of settlers in the north or on the deployment of forces. There is no increased vigilance or restrictions on the movement of Israeli soldiers in front of the border, let alone farmers and travellers in the north.

All of this prompts a reading into what is behind the threats and what the Israeli leaders sought from them. It may mean that the statements of senior Israeli security officials do not indicate an imminent attack in the north or a real opportunity for war in the foreseeable future, even though speeches by the minister of security, the army commander and the chief of military intelligence have made news headlines.

Israeli signals about Hezbollah’s possible launch of a strike on the northern border, or that Israel may soon move against Iran, express general assessments and have less practical importance in the short term. Contrary to recent statements, currently, there are no reinforcements for the Army Division in the northern region. It must be noted that these threats based on personal assessments may not necessarily depend on intelligence material.

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This does not mean the Israeli army is not following Hezbollah’s activities near the borders. It has learned its lessons from the failure of the infiltration operation in the Megiddo region in northern Palestine. The army, however, is not confirming the existence of a specific warning of an operation and does not reference an operational plan that is being developed and may be implemented soon.

While Israeli supreme security forces warn of a confrontation in Lebanon that will lead to a multi-sided war, it does not seem that important political and force-building conclusions are being discussed, although ongoing threats recall what was witnessed in the summer of 2007. At that time, the media expressed great concern about the danger of an imminent war with Syria, only one year after the 2006 Lebanon War. However, there was no enthusiasm for this confrontation, and when military officials were asked about the reason for the outbreak, the answers were vague about penetrated deterrence.

Therefore, the current voices of escalation on both sides of the border with Lebanon reveal a dominant feeling by the Israeli security forces that soon there may be an armed conflict in Lebanon, which could develop into a multi-front battle that the Israelis have warned against. Perhaps this is because the party suffers from over-confidence in its abilities with regard to Israel. It is possible that Israel itself provided Hezbollah with some justifications after appearing complacent about not responding to the Megiddo attack and the party’s tacit approval to launch 34 rockets at Israel during the month of Ramadan.

Statements by the heads of security services created a feeling among the public that the possibility of a large-scale military conflict in the region is increasing. Meanwhile, the prevailing assessment in the General Staff Headquarters in Tel Aviv is that if a spark starts, things could deteriorate very quickly into days of battle and then into a real war, which neither side wants. The great challenge at present is when and how to stop this deterioration.

Israel is indeed continuing the battle between the wars against Hezbollah and Iran’s proxies in Syria, but the security tension continues on all fronts. However, there is no indication that discussions about this are taking place seriously with the prime minister, the government or even within the security institution itself.

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These Israeli threats show that the army fears unexpected developments that may be witnessed on one of the tense fronts following a few consecutive events. The first of these events was the agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between Israel and Lebanon, the second was the failure to respond to the explosion in Megiddo, the third was the weak response to the firing of missiles from Lebanon and Syria and the fourth was the continued landing of weapons-equipped planes from Iran directly to Beirut. All confirm that Israel fears entering into a war of attrition that will cause anxiety and insecurity for the settlers of the north.

This does not mean Hezbollah will open fire at Israel this month; it may take another year. But what heads of the military security apparatus did not say is that the internal Israeli division would weaken the image of deterrence against the hostile forces around it and may make them more daring to target Israel at one of the tense fronts.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.