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Rocket fire from Lebanon raises concern of active front on northern border

What happened: Early on Tuesday morning two rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel.

  • Alarms were sounded in the town of Shlomi and surrounding areas in the western Galilee. The Iron Dome intercepted one of the rockets and the other fell in an uninhabited area. There were no injuries and no damage to infrastructure.
  • Later in the day, the Lebanese army announced that it had found three 122 mm Grad rocket launchers south of Tyre, one of which held a rocket ready for launching.
  • In response to the rockets, the IDF fired artillery shells into Lebanese territory, but no damage or injuries were reported there either.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the attack, saying that those who try to harm Israel will pay “a painful price,” adding: “We are working day and night, on all fronts, and we’ll continue doing so. Lebanon is on the brink of collapse, like every country Iran is entrenching in.”
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “The party responsible for the fire last night is the State of Lebanon, which allows terrorist operations from its territory. The State of Israel will act against any threat to its sovereignty and citizens, and will react in keeping with its interests at the relevant time and place … we won’t allow the social, economic and political crisis in Lebanon become a security threat to Israel. I call on the international community to act to restore stability to Lebanon.”
  • IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi further warned: “We will not allow attacks such as last night to happen as a result of Lebanon’s dire economic circumstances. We will respond overtly, covertly or both following any attempt to violate Israel’s sovereignty from Lebanon.” Kochavi added that Lebanon is on the way to a total collapse, blaming Hezbollah for playing a role in accelerating the process.
  • On Monday evening Syrian media reported that the Israel Air Force attacked sites in southern Aleppo with missiles.  According to Syrian sources the attacks targeted bases of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that researches, develops and manufactures weapons.

Context:  There is concern among security officials that the crisis inside Lebanon could spill over into Israel.

  • The two rockets fired from Lebanon this week follow three similar incidents during the recent operation in Gaza in May.
  • The working assumption inside Israel is that given the similarities, Palestinian factions affiliated with Hamas and not Hezbollah are responsible for the rocket fire.
  • There is broad speculation on why they fired on this occasion.  It could be in defiance to the Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or connected with the distress of Hamas in Gaza, still hoping to receive money from Qatar. Alternatively, it could reflect the distress inside Lebanon, or at the behest of Iran relating to strikes in Syria.
  • There is also a debate whether Hezbollah knew about the rocket fire in advance, given their overall control of southern Lebanon. According to Yossi Yehoshua, the security commentator in Yediot Ahronot, “not a single rocket can be fired out of Lebanon at Israel without Hezbollah’s approval, and Iran is trying to use its proxy now to create a new equation in which every IDF attack on Syrian soil is met with retaliation out of Lebanon”.
  • However, given the crisis inside Lebanon, it is unlikely that Hezbollah is looking to clash with Israel at this point.
  • Likewise, Israel also prefers to avoid any major conflict with Hezbollah as the situation inside Lebanon continues to deteriorate.
  • Although Israel does not always take responsibility for strikes inside Syria (including this latest attack in Aleppo), it was the first time that Israel is alleged to have carried out an attack in Syria since the new government took over.

Looking ahead:  More rocket fire from Lebanon could evolve into an active front for the IDF.

  • There is criticism that the light IDF response of firing artillery shells into open fields fails to send an appropriate message to deter future attacks.
  • Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom concludes: “It is unlikely that our intelligence services do not know just who was responsible for the rocket fire, where they operate and where they live … a targeted strike on them—whether covertly or overtly carried out — would send a better message than a thousand threatening statements.”

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