What happened: Israel remains on a heightened state of alert along its northern border after Monday’s infiltration attempt by Hezbollah.
- The security establishment’s working assessment is that Hezbollah is still planning its retaliation for the death of one of its operatives in an attack in Syria that was carried out last week and which was ascribed to Israel.
- On Monday afternoon a Hezbollah cell attempted to infiltrate Israel in the Mount Dov area. They were monitored on camera by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) observers and when they crossed into Israeli territory, troops fired at the ground close to them, but deliberately did not hit them. The cell then fled back to Lebanese territory.
- According to Lebanese sources, the IDF also fired artillery shells into the area.
- During the infiltration attempt the IDF instructed all Israelis who live in the border area to remain in their homes. The restrictions on civilian activity were lifted soon after. Yesterday, there were no civilian restrictions and tourist sites in the area operated as normal.
- IDF’s forces are spread across the northern border, including tanks to provide a powerful counter attack if necessary. Special forces were also deployed, but hidden so as not to become targets themselves.
- United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were also deployed on the Lebanese side of the border. UNIFIL also acts as a liaison between Israel and Lebanon and a conduit for Israel to pass on warnings.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday visited the IDF Northern Command headquarters. He said: “Yesterday’s action was important; it thwarted an infiltration into our territory. Everything happening now is the result of the effort by Iran and its Lebanese proxies to entrench militarily in our region. Nasrallah is serving this Iranian interest at Lebanon’s expense. I do not suggest that anybody try the IDF or the State of Israel. We are determined to defend ourselves.”
- Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab accused Israel of violating his country’s sovereignty with a “dangerous military escalation”. However, Samir Geagea, the Christian leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, blamed Hezbollah, claiming the incident was a clear indication that the Lebanese government doesn’t have sovereignty in the south.
Context: The current military assessment is that Hezbollah remains determined to carry out an attack.
- The infiltration attempt was unusual, as even though the Hezbollah cell were armed, crossed the border and intended to kill soldiers, on this occasion they were allowed to escape. The desired outcome from Israel’s perspective was to avoid an escalation.
- The IDF has not released any of the video footage, allowing Hezbollah to deny the attack. A spokesperson for the group said: “The reports in Israel about an infiltration and gunfire at our fighters are Israeli lies … our response to the death of the organisation’s operative will still arrive.”
- For the IDF there are three strategic objectives in the north: to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria; prevent precision-guided missiles from being deployed in Lebanon; and to deter Hezbollah from taking action inside Israeli territory.
- Hezbollah remains in a dilemma in how to keep their prestige and respond for the death of its member without eliciting a stronger counter attack from Israel. According to analyst Shimrit Meir, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has not yet made a final decision on what he wants to achieve and what he intends to do.
Looking ahead: Although the initial assessment suggested that Hezbollah would respond this week, it could be a prolonged period of tension.
- After Prime Minister Netanyahu was briefed at the Northern Command, he said: “I am impressed that the IDF is well prepared for every possible scenario. We will continue to take action to thwart Iran’s military entrenchment in our region. We will do whatever is necessary to defend ourselves and I suggest that Hezbollah consider this simple fact. Israel is ready for any scenario.”