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What is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah thinking?

One possible answer is that Hezbollah believes a war with Israel would allow it to break the political deadlock in Lebanon, to the advantage of itself and its patron, Iran.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Iran, October 2019. Credit: Iran News Agency.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Iran, October 2019. Credit: Iran News Agency.
Jacques Neriah. Credit: Twitter.
Jacques Neriah
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly a foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.

Since the beginning of July 2023, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has escalated his anti-Israel rhetoric, belittling the Jewish state and arguing that the Jewish state has lost its deterrence because of its domestic weakness. Nasrallah, who is known to be a compulsive reader of the Israeli press and international press coverage relating to Israel, seems to have concluded that Israel is weakened from within and lacks the resolve to wage war against Hezbollah or any other adversary.

Few doubt that Nasrallah’s bellicose policies match the strategies of his Iranian patrons and are carried out with Iran’s approval.

When his operatives erected tents on the Israeli side of the “Blue Line,” the designated boundary that since 2000 has demarcated the U.N.-recognized line of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, he openly threw down his gauntlet, stating that Hezbollah was prepared to act militarily if Israel moved to dismantle the outpost. He bluntly declared that the tents had been erected on Lebanese land and that Hezbollah did not intend to dismantle them and withdraw.

The Hezbollah leader also claimed there was no basis for negotiating the land border between Lebanon and Israel. He demanded that Israel comply with his “proposal” of withdrawing to the 1923 Pallet-Newcombe lines, an agreement according to which there is already an internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Mandatory Palestine, thus returning 13 points of contention to Lebanese sovereignty, a proposal no Israeli government can even consider.

Nasrallah promised to deal also with the unilateral “annexation” by Israel of part of the border village of Ghajar, with its Syrian Alawite residents, if Israel did not withdraw from this “Lebanese” land, hinting that he would not hesitate to use force. Indeed, a few days later, an anti-tank missile was fired by a Hezbollah squad in the direction of the village, only by chance missing an Israeli patrol. On Aug. 13, a Hezbollah operative threw a bomb at the border fence.

Nasrallah warned Israel several times not to miscalculate Hezbollah’s resolve to confront Israel militarily, and argued that contrary to Israeli claims that Hezbollah has been deterred since the end of the Second Lebanon War, the reverse is the case.

Recent months have witnessed an unprecedented intensification of Hezbollah provocations on the border and even deep inside Israeli territory. Hezbollah’s continuous military presence in South Lebanon contradicts United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701; it prevents UNIFIL personnel from carrying independent inspections; operatives harass the inhabitants of the Israeli border villages and on-duty soldiers with laser beams and loudspeakers.

Among these provocations were the roadside bomb placed at the Megiddo Junction in March; rocket and anti-tank missile attacks against Israel; the dismantling of Israeli security cameras; incursions deep beyond the Blue Line; unprecedented road construction along the border fence and moving concrete blocks placed by Israel to demarcate the border.

The Iranian proxy continues to monitor Israeli territory from 27 towers constructed in the past year along the Blue Line under the guise of “Green without Borders,” a Hezbollah-affiliated organization that poses as an environmental NGO. Hezbollah recently conducted a military exercise in which elite troops practiced blowing up a border wall and invading Israeli territory.

This list, as impressive as it might be, is nowhere near comprehensive. These provocations stem from the understanding—in Nasrallah’s own words—that if Israel were today what it used to be, and if Lebanon were today what it was years ago, Israel would not have hesitated a moment to react. In the eyes of Hezbollah, Israel has lost its credibility and, more importantly, its deterrence—not only against Hezbollah but also the Palestinian terror factions in Judea and Samaria.

The question is, what is Nasrallah’s goal? Is he seeking a military confrontation with Israel? And if not, where does he judge the limits of Israel’s tolerance to be?

One possible answer was provided by one of Nasrallah’s close followers and confidantes, Sheikh Sadeq el-Nabulsi, who gave an interview on Al-Hadath TV on July 6. He said that if the political factions in Lebanon could not agree on a presidential candidate and the country’s political stalemate continued, then a war would change the balance of forces in Lebanon and allow the presentation of a Hezbollah candidate, something that to date has not been possible. According to that same Sheikh, Hezbollah should begin a military confrontation without waiting for Israel to act first.

One cannot ignore this logic: it has legs in the Lebanese context. However, Hezbollah is not an independent movement. Its leaders are in tune with the Supreme Leader in Tehran and in coordination with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force. No doubt Tehran is not only aware of Hezbollah’s activities against Israel but has given them the green light. Most probably, Tehran’s directives to Hezbollah will depend on its perception of other developments in the area, first and foremost in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Nasrallah’s fierce rhetoric has brought the two sides closer—possibly much closer—to a military confrontation. Nasrallah is convinced he can challenge Israel and cross the red lines he imagined impassible in the past.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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