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Israel on high alert over possible Hezbollah attack

What happened: Israel is on a high state of alert with concern that Hezbollah will try to carry out an attack in the next few days. Hezbollah is seeking revenge after the death of its member, Ali Kamel Mohsen, during an airstrike south of Damascus on 20 July.

  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has augmented its soldiers on the border with intelligence and artillery as well as batteries from the Iron Dome missile defence system. The Israeli air force is also on a heightened state of preparedness.
  • Yesterday the IDF launched smoke bombs along parts of the Israeli-Lebanese border to prevent Hezbollah identifying potential targets by sniper fire or anti-tank rockets.
  • At the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Regarding the northern front, we are acting according to our consistent policy of not allowing Iran to entrench militarily on our northern border. Lebanon and Syria bear the responsibility for any attack against Israel emanating from their territories. We will not allow our security to be undermined; neither will we allow our citizens to be threatened. We will not tolerate attacks on our forces.”
  • Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Gantz visited the Northern Command yesterday. He said Israel is not looking for an unnecessary escalation but that “anyone who will test us – will meet a very high capacity for action … I was very impressed by the depth of analysis, and the way in which the IDF operating in the Northern Command area are being prepared.”
  • On the Lebanese side of the border, close to Metulla, the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) prevented several Lebanese citizens from reaching the border fence.
  • Adding to the tension, last night an IDF drone fell in Lebanese territory during an intelligence gathering exercise. According to the army, it was a technical malfunction and there was no concern of information leaking.

Context: Conventional wisdom still holds that neither Israel or Hezbollah has an interest in a serious escalation.

  • In the past Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that he would retaliate for any attack on his troops, even if they were attacked in Syria.
  • Following the attack in Damascus on 20 July there was anger in Lebanon and among media commentators who mocked Nasrallah for not keeping his promises. According to Yoav Limor, the security analyst at Israel Hayom, “It seemed that in the first few days he was still deliberating over whether to retaliate, but the IDF’s conduct indicates that the decision in Beirut has been made.”
  • Limor further notes: “Nasrallah doesn’t want war. He’s in unprecedented distress. Lebanon is in a state of economic collapse and is on the verge of insolvency. The unemployment rate has spiked. Since Hezbollah is part of the government, is perceived as being part of the problem. Nasrallah is likely to try to walk between raindrops. To retaliate, but in the most minimal way possible. If he could kill one soldier, for another, he would settle for that. An eye for an eye, and the matter’s settled.” However, for Israel to keep up its deterrence it is also expected to respond to any attack.
  • A second reason for concern is that Hezbollah’s patron Iran could also encourage a strike as part of their revenge for the sabotaging of the advanced centrifuges in Natanz early in July, for which they blame Israel.

Looking ahead:  Last September, it took Hezbollah a week to retaliate to Israel killing two of its members in a strike near Damascus. This time it might try to attack Israel before the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha later this week.