Firefighter carries remains of Katyusha rocket 311 (R).
(photo credit: baz ratner/reuters)
Early Tuesday morning, residents of Israel’s Western Galilee were awoken by
blasts caused by four rockets which landed near the shared border with Lebanon.
Exactly which town was struck was not immediately announced by Israeli media,
probably in accordance with military procedure of not confirming direct hits for
rocket launching squads across the border.
The rockets themselves were of
the short-range Katyusha type, hitting close to the border, causing some
property damage and no injuries.
Unlike Israel’s south, the Lebanese
border has been relatively quiet, despite the presence of a number of militant
groups who operate south of the Litani River. These factions vary in their
religious and political ideologies, as well as their operational capability.
Hezbollah is by far the most powerful of the groups, and boasts the capability
to simultaneously launch hundreds of rockets as far south as the city of Dimona
at nearly a moment’s notice.
Other, less capable groups include
Palestinian and global jihad factions, many of which have small arsenals of
short range rockets, and have been blamed for similar flare-ups in the
The attack was in no way a fluke.
Unlike in the Gaza Strip,
any attack on Israel from Lebanon is perpetrated after considerable calculation
by a number of parties, including Hezbollah which controls southern Lebanon, and
its backers in Iran and Syria. These parties understand that a serious
provocation could result in an even broader conflict which would result
widespread damage across Lebanon, far greater than that inflicted in the 2006
Second Lebanon War.
Despite the relative calm in the north, localized
flare-ups have occurred over the years, often drawing a Israeli response in the
form of symbolic artillery barrages into open areas. Many of these attacks have
coincided with events concerning the Palestinians, either in the territories or
During Operation Cast Lead, several rockets were fired in the
Western Galilee, again drawing a limited Israeli response.
IT IS no
coincidence that the relative calm in the north was shattered just hours after
another mysterious explosion rocked a strategically important Iranian city.The
blast in Isfahan, a hub of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, was the
latest in what is perceived to be an enhanced sabotage campaign by Western spy
agencies following the latest critical report by the IAEA. Syria meanwhile, has
threatened retaliation against Israel and Jordan for the killing of six air
force pilots by insurgents in a raid that took place near Homs earlier this
It is no secret that both Syria and Iran wield considerable
influence of both Shia and Sunni militants in southern Lebanon, providing them
with logistical, monetary and ideological support. More than most, Hezbollah has
long been open about its close alliance with Iran, stating numerous times that
an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would result in an escalation with
Despite the close ties, it is unlikely that Hezbollah was
directly responsible for the recent attack. Domestically, the group’s political
wing is facing the worst political crisis since it took power, with the March 14
opposition taking aim not only at its pro-Assad policies, but its insistence on
maintaining a private army.
Amin Gemayel, a prominent opposition
Christian figure, recently lashed out at Hezbollah, claiming that its
“resistance” approach no longer legitimizes their demand for such a well armed
militia. Similar statements by other political figures signal that such
sentiment is rapidly spreading among the Lebanese population, meaning that
Hezbollah itself would have an especially difficult time justifying another
conflict with Israel in the name of “resistance.”
The Syrians and
Iranians understand Hezbollah’s military card is severely limited by its
precarious domestic situation, yet still need an outlet from which to send a
warning message to the Israelis.
Palestinian and Sunni militant groups
provide the most convenient option.
These groups have taken credit for
past attacks along the border, and their particularly extremist ideology creates
the façade that they do consider the consequences of such an attack on regional
stability. The Syrian conflict has caused many of these groups to return to
Lebanon from their bases in that country, and the recent attack was preceded by
a flux in inter-faction violence in Palestinian refugee camps over the past
Given its limited scope, the flare-up on the Lebanese border was
actually an example of the highly volatile way in which Israel and its enemies
The fact that the attack was small in both scale and range
signals that the Iranians and Syrians wanted to warn the state of Israel that
operations to undermine Iranian or Syrian aspirations will not go unchecked.
Israel’s limited response, as well, was meant to send a message that it will
retaliate for any provocation, but yet does not seek a major conflict.
in past flare-ups, Lebanese militias will not likely respond, another message to
Israel that they, too, do not seek a large conflict. Hezbollah, in the meantime,
is likely to keep its military option hidden in its many bunkers for the time
being, unleashing it only when it senses a substantial threat to its position of
power in Lebanon, or at the behest of its Iranian puppet masters.The
writer is an Argov Fellow for Leadership and Diplomacy at the IDC
He works for Max-Security Solutions, a security consulting firm
based in Tel Aviv.