Israel on high alert on northern border

What happened: Israel chose not to significantly retaliate for the 19 rockets that Hezbollah fired on Mt. Dov on Friday. The decision was intended to avoid further escalation at this time.

  • The Israeli security establishment was surprised by Hezbollah’s decision to fire 19 rockets in broad daylight. Ten rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, two exploded in Lebanese territory and the rest landed in uninhabited areas in Israel.
  • At yesterday’s cabinet meeting Prime Minister Bennett said, “In the Lebanese sector, there has been a very important awakening by many citizens in the country against Hezbollah and the Iranian involvement there. Even during the severe economic and political crisis in Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah are entangling the citizens of Lebanon in a front against Israel. Lebanon and its army must take responsibility for what is happening in their backyard. In this case as well, it is less important to us if it was a Palestinian organization that was involved, or they were dissidents or independent. The State of Israel will not accept firing at its territory.”
  • On Saturday Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a key address marking the 15th anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Among his comments he said:
    • The events of recent days are the most serious in the past 15 years.
    • On Friday, Israel deliberately chose to fire in an open area to “send a message, and to take a step, and we can later escalate by another step.”
    • Hezbollah would respond to every Israeli Air Force attack in Lebanon.
    • Hezbollah chose to fire during broad daylight, unlike Israel, that attacks during the night to intimidate women and children.
    • Nasrallah said all options were on the table for retaliation in any area of what he called northern Occupied Palestine, including the Golan Heights and the Galilee.
    • He said Hezbollah does not want war but is ready for it if need be. Israel’s worst folly would be to get into a war with Lebanon.
  • In response, Israeli officials emphasised:
    • “We will continue to respond to rocket fire out of Lebanon.”
    • Hezbollah wants to create a new equation that is designed to limit Israel’s legitimate right to defend its citizens and to prevent its northern border from being turned into an area that is perpetually under threat of rocket fire and terror.
    • If the Palestinian terror organisations were to continue rocket fire, the IDF would not hesitate to react. But deducing Israel’s decision not to retaliate to Friday’s rocket fire by Hezbollah is a mistake. 
    • Hezbollah understands the complexity of situation. Similarly, it does not want to see things devolve into a large-scale clash. It therefore chose to fire at Mt. Dov, where there aren’t any civilian communities.

Context: Following the Hezbollah rocket fire on Friday, the responsible party was apprehended by Druze villagers.

  • In unprecedented scenes recorded on social media the residents of Chouya physically blocked Hezbollah operatives from driving through their village. In the footage one can see 11 out of the 30 rockets in the multi rocket launcher loaded on board their pickup truck that hadn’t been fired.
  • There have now been six incidents of rocket fire in the last three months, including three in the past two weeks. The first five were attributed to Palestinian groups, while the sixth attack was claimed by Hezbollah on Friday.
  • After five incidents of rocket fire in which Hezbollah had no involvement, the group felt the need to reassert itself, particularly in the lead up to Nasrallah’s scheduled anniversary victory speech on Saturday night, to restore its status as the “protector of Lebanon.”
  • Hezbollah probably does not want war, but it could be interested in heating up the border in order to distract international pressure on Iran.
  • Due to the domestic fragility inside Lebanon, Hezbollah is unlikely to look for further conflagration. However recent rocket attacks by Palestinian groups could suggest that Hezbollah is not completely in control on the ground. There is concern that these small groups could trigger a wider conflict.

Looking ahead: IDF troops remain on high alert along the northern border.

  • In parallel to the threat of rockets, Israel is dealing with unprecedented set of challenges including Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, their continued entrenchment in Syria, naval attacks in the Gulf, and upgrading Hezbollah rockets to precision-guided missiles. Read BICOM’s briefing on Hezbollah’s precision missile programme.

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