Are there winds of war on the northern borders of Israel?

At the end of the week in a speech marking the anniversary of Iran’s Jerusalem Day, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made it clear that the war against Iran will not stay there.

By
June 3, 2019 22:18
4 minute read.
Israeli soldiers

Israeli soldiers stand near the area where Israeli military personnel continue their work on exposing and thwarting cross-border tunnels dug from Lebanon into Israel, as seen on the Israeli side of the border, near the town of Metula December 19, 2018. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

In the past two weeks, tensions in northern Israel may have reached a new stage. Mutual attacks between the IDF and the Syrian army on the Golan Heights; tension between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf; and increasing economic pressure on the Shi’ite axis due to the sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah, may mark the end of a relatively quiet period on the northern border.
Moreover, paradoxically, in the Middle East even peace talks may be a sign of war. There are two such channels now: the “Deal of the Century” led by US President Donald Trump – apparently in coordination with the Sunni Arab states – and at the same time, an agreement to settle Israeli-Lebanese border disputes mediated by the United States. The Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat also reported that as part of these contacts, the Americans raised the issue to the Lebanese of Hezbollah’s precise missiles, making it clear that the United States would not be able to prevent Israel from acting against them.

Therefore, Hezbollah and its boss in Tehran are under pressure. They will not gladly accept these two American initiatives, especially with regard to Lebanon – which may obviate the need for “Resistance” to Israel there. In addition, the “Deal of the Century” will probably strengthen the inter-bloc polarity in the Middle East between the Sunni countries supported by the United States – led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and the Shi’ite elements, headed by Iran. Qatar and Turkey have been playing for both teams until now and will soon have to choose a side.

How will this affect Israel’s security? At the end of the week in a speech marking the anniversary of Iran’s Jerusalem Day, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made it clear that “the war against Iran will not remain within the borders of Iran” and that “the whole region will be ignited and all US forces and American interests will be destroyed – and all those who had conspired will pay a price, first and foremost Israel and Saudi Arabia. The price of a barrel of oil will reach $400.”

Nasrallah added that Hezbollah has accurate missiles in sufficient amounts that are capable of “changing the region and the equation.”

Iran has already raised the tension on Israel’s southern border in the past year, and now it looks like there is full coordination of policy and messages between radical elements in the northern and southern borders of Israel. Thus, coordination meetings between Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been held several times in recent months. In an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television channel, the leader of the PIJ, Ziyad Nahala, recently made it clear that “we have no redlines in the war with Israel” and promised attacks against the Jewish state, including in the West Bank.


ISRAELIS ARE used to such threats. But the timing – and the clear statement that Hezbollah will stand by Iran – indeed indicate that there is no shame. Hezbollah, despite the internal restraints, will continue to defend its Iranian boss and is fully prepared for this in terms of its military level.

So far, the exchange of blows between Israel and the Shi’ite elements has been concentrated almost totally on the Syrian side of the border. Indeed, the critical point will be if and when Hezbollah acts against Israel from Lebanon. What will life in the North of Israel be like with intermittent showers of rockets, like those that have been falling in the South for 15 years? And how long will it take for these showers to make the lives of Israeli citizens unbearable and in fact lead the region to war?

A balance of deterrence has existed between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon for the past 13 years. It was clear to both sides that war would exact a heavy price. It was also clear to them that any security incident at the border could lead to a war that no one was interested in. The big question now is whether the Shi’ite side is willing to take the risk of escalation on the Lebanese border, along which there are many settlements on both sides of the fence, based on an assessment that escalation does not necessarily mean war.

As indicated both by the rocket fire from Syria toward Israel this week and from Nasrallah’s speech, Iran will certainly strive to increase the pressure on the United States by heating up Israel’s northern border. However, the question is what the IDF will do – and how it will maintain the balance of deterrence without being dragged into a war that it would prefer to avoid.

The writer is the founder and CEO of Alma, a leading research and education center that focuses on Israel’s security challenges on the northern border. She is a lieutenant-colonel in the IDF reserves, who served for 15 years in the military specializing in intelligence and holds a masters degree in Middle East Studies from Ben-Gurion University.


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