Nasrallah’s threats heighten tensions in the North


Northern front: Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah gave a speech yesterday on the 4th anniversary of the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

  • “In one fell swoop an active ‘resistance’ front arose against Israel, but all the organisations on the ‘front’ are working by themselves, at their own paces, with their own priorities, without receiving operational instructions from Iran. Iran’s role is simply to provide weapons, ammunition, military equipment, training and operational instructors, not to give operational orders.”
  • Nasrallah also touched on the domestic situation in Israel. “You hear voices against the government inside Israel. You see political camps speaking out even against the Israeli air force. This is the first time a real war has been going on inside Israel. Even outside Israel, there is an ‘anti’ atmosphere. Only the United States and Great Britain are cooperating, while 153 countries around the world come out against Israel and call on it to stop murdering innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip…Everything Israel has touched since October 7 is doomed to failure. They have no security, and if there is no security, Israel will lose its right to exist. I call on the Zionists—pack your bags and go somewhere else that will agree to take you. After all, every Israeli has a passport from another country.”
  • “We will not take this contemptible assassination lying down. I promise that Hezbollah’s response will come. Naturally, I’m not going to reveal what we are planning, but Israel will regret this assassination.”
  • At least 95 people have been killed by two bomb explosions near Soleimani’s tomb yesterday. Iran blamed Israel but it is considered most likely the work of Sunni jihadists.
  • The IDF attacked a Hezbollah command post last night, killing four Hezbollah operatives, including the commander of the Naqoura District, Hussein Yazbak. Yesterday was one of the deadliest days for Hezbollah, with 9 of their operatives killed. A total 149 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since the start of hostilities in October.
  • IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Halevi visited the northern border and held a situation assessment meeting “We are very strongly prepared here in the north,” said Halevi. “We are very well prepared in all the theaters; at the moment we are focusing on the war against Hamas.” He added that despite the dififcult circumstances, the war has produced an opportunity to change the situation very significantly in the south and in the north and as a whole in the regional posture.”
  • IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said yesterday that Israel has thwarted Hezbollah’s operations along the border and has dealt with other challenges in the Red Sea and Syria. He added that the IDF was prepared on all fronts.
  • US President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu and told him that the United States would continue to maintain a “significant presence” in the region. The conversation took place following reports that the Americans were planning to redeploy one of the two aircraft carriers, the USS Gerald R. Ford and the battleships that accompany it, from the Red Sea.

Gaza Strip: The IDF continues to operate across the Gaza Strip including deep inside the southern city of Khan Yunis.

  • The IDF has also made further advances in the central areas of the Strip including in Nuseirat, al-Ma’azi and Bureij.
  • As a result of the operations, more Gazan civilians are being encouraged to move south.
  • According to Palestinian sources, the current population in Rafah, which was 250,000 before the war, now exceeds 1.2 million people.
  • IDF Spokesperson Hagari said that, “in Khan Yunis, our forces continue to operate underground. This operation takes time, both for our forces’ safety and because we use classified and new methods. We do not want to reveal our combat methods to the enemy.”
  • “In the central camps, we continue to strike. There is a significant operation there and terrorists are killed daily. This is alongside our forces locating and identifying production sites. These sites, where Hamas produces and assembles rockets, some are located underground with significant manufacturing machinery, including some from other countries, including Iran.”
  • IDF troops destroyed a 250 metre long tunnel that was discovered beneath the Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City. According to the IDF the tunnel led to a number of major Hamas command posts.
  • The hospital itself was not damaged and it has continued to operate normally.
  • Despite intensive IDF operations, Hamas are still launching rockets into southern Israel. This morning sirens once again sounded in Ashkelon, and two rockets intercepted.
  • The IDF has informed the family of Sahar Baruch, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Beeri, that he was killed during an IDF special forces operation in the northern Gaza Strip to free him on December 8. The IDF is unable to say definitively whether Sahar was murdered by Hamas or whether he was killed by Israeli gunfire. In addition, two IDF special forces soldiers sustained serious injuries in the operation.
  • A senior Israeli official has briefed Israeli media that the comments of right wing politicians encouraging Gazans to leave Gaza does not represent Israeli government policy.      

Context: As planned, Nasrallah dedicated his speech to head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qassem Soleimani.

  • Soleimani’s strategy was to surround Israel with a ‘ring of fire’ – Iranian proxies in Iran, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon possessing significant missile capability that could attack and deter Israel.
  • The speech came a day after a drone fired two missiles that struck a third floor apartment in the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut killing the number two in Hamas’s external leadership Salah al-Arouri. Nasrallah had previously promised that any Israeli action on Lebanese soil that killed a senior Lebanese, Palestinian, Iranian or Syrian official would lead to a powerful reaction.”
  • Despite the rhetoric, analysts believe Nasrallah’s speech signals Hezbollah is unlikely to carry out a significant response to Arouri’s killing (which would then require a strong Israeli response which could lead to a serious risk of war). It also suggests that Hezbollah is deterred and prepared to tolerate a blow even in the heart of the Dahiya district of Beirut.
  • The group will likely seek to carry out a ‘proportionate’ response which may involve trying to kill a senior Israeli official along the northern border or abroad.
  • There is ongoing concern in Israel over the plight of the estimated 133 hostages still held inside Gaza. Following the assassination of Arouri, the negotiations are currently halted.
  • As part of the coalition agreement, a year after the government was formed Foreign Minister Cohen, and Energy Minister Katz switched roles.  On his first day as the new foreign minister (a role he has held in the past) Katz spoke to Foreign Secretary Cameron. Katz expressed, “deep appreciation for Britain’s unwavering support for Israel after the Hamas October 7th terrorist attack.”  He also highlighted the importance of opposing South Africa’s motion against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague.
  • The US announced that it has carried out its own investigation, which supported the IDF finding regarding Hamas infrastructure underneath the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Looking ahead: US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Israel today and meet with senior officials to try and prevent escalation in the north. Hochstein, who previously brokered the Israeli Lebanon maritime border, is reportedly trying to mediate an agreement on the ground border between the two countries.

  • Israel maintains that the pre-October 7th status quo on the northern border cannot be returned to, and that that Hezbollah, and its elite Radwan force in particular, must be moved north of the Litani river, as called for by UN Resolution 1701.
  • The US and France have made efforts to induce the Lebanese government to act to remove Hezbollah fighters from the border area, but Israel has also affirmed that if diplomatic initiatives fail it will be forced to take military action to secure the north. Secretary of State Blinken will visit Beirut on Tuesday, after pushing off the visit that had been planned for tomorrow following the assassination of al-Arouri.
  • Following a delay, the security cabinet is expected to convene this evening and discuss the ‘day after’. Ministers are expected to be shown the plan that was drafted by the National Security Council and Minister Ron Dermer.
  • Next week the ICJ will hold two open hearings related to the South African allegations that Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip constitute genocide. Unlike in the past, Israel intends to challenge these allegations in the court. From Israel’s perspective all of its military operations are carried out in compliance with the international laws of war.