Hezbollah has been testing the waters north of Israel, initiating a series of tit-for-tat fire exchanges with the Jewish state, and discovering a high degree of Israeli operational readiness and determination in the process.
While it is unclear whether the recent series of deadly engagements in the north will develop into a new, second war front, it is clear that Hezbollah is signaling its solidarity with Hamas, its fellow member of the Iranian-led radical axis.
On Monday, Hezbollah confirmed that it lost three of its operatives in an Israeli artillery bombardment, which occurred in response to a mortar attack by Hezbollah.
Following up on the exchange, Hezbollah terrorists fired on Tuesday an anti-tank missile at an Israel Defense Forces armored vehicle that was empty at the time, striking the vehicle and setting it on fire. The IDF retaliated by striking a Hezbollah observation post on the border.
Unknown terrorists fired projectiles at Israel from Syria on Tuesday as well, prompting return artillery fire by Israel at the source.
Meanwhile, three IDF personnel were killed in action after taking on a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror squad that infiltrated the western Galilee from Lebanon, using an explosive charge to blast a hole in the border fence. The squad was eliminated by the IDF in the exchange.
“We have Hezbollah and Palestinian factions in Lebanon, and we are prepared to deal with them. We have deployed forces and are on very high alert,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the Research and Assessment Division of Israel’s Military Intelligence, and a senior research fellow at Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy, said on Tuesday.
Hezbollah has several considerations in its decision-making on whether to get involved, he added, including the fact that it is a member of the Iranian terror axis. When a fellow member of the axis—Hamas—is under pressure, “they feel committed to come to [its] support, and show that they care and want to help.”
“They also want to kill Israelis and Jews no less than Hamas; they are part of the same ideology, the certain distorted interpretation of Islam. This is something that would give them a lot of joy to get involved with,” said Kuperwasser.
‘Hezbollah a shield for Iran’
On the other hand, Hezbollah is hearing clearly from the rest of Lebanon that it does not want to get dragged into a war that would lead to country-wide devastation for the sake of Hamas.
Hezbollah also “understands” the significance of the U.S. deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean, carrying F-35 fighter jets, as a message of deterrence not to get involved.
In addition, Hezbollah “can’t catch Israel by surprise” at this stage after the IDF deployed considerable forces to the north in recent days, he noted.
“With their capabilities, Hezbollah are supposed to be a shield for Iran in case Israel wants to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, so why use it now for the sake of Palestinians and then leave Iran helpless if Israel or the U.S. decides to operate against Iranian nuclear facilities? All these considerations are taken into account by [Hassan] Nasrallah,” said Kuperwasser, referring to Hezbollah’s leader in Lebanon.
Israel is delivering a clear message about its determination to defend itself while still not wanting to see a northern escalation, he added.
“We definitely can handle two fronts once the military is deployed and mobilized; this is not a big issue. We already paid such a heavy price that you cannot threaten us with paying heavy prices,” he stated.
Kuperwasser stated that the wider picture is that on the morning of Oct. 7, when Hamas members invaded Israel’s south and wreaked havoc on Israeli civilians, the “Iranian-led camp decided to operate against Israel. Why? My assessment is that it is a combination of many things.”
He listed the sense of growing omnipotence by Iran and its proxies, who sensed no real opposition to their path of becoming “the strongest element in the Middle East.” Iran faced no consequences for supplying Russia with UAVs; China and Russia were supportive of Tehran; and the West failed to challenge its nuclear program, he argued.
Perceived Israeli weakness also played a part, Kuperwasser said, during months of judicial reform protests where Israel was “torn between two camps fighting each other internally and showed weakness,” he added, while Israel’s failure to respond to Hezbollah attacks like the March Megiddo Junction bombing also contributed.
“Also, the thought that they could produce such a challenge that the Abraham Accords and idea of normalization with Saudi Arabia would not be able to stand such a challenge and prevent that happening,” he added.
Iran was “deeply involved” in Hamas’s mass murder raids on Saturday, adding that he was “quite confident that they [Hamas] checked the date with the Iranians and got approval, and did not catch Iran by surprise.”
Some of the weapons used in the attack are Iranian, and the concept of swarming targets is also based on an Iranian naval attack doctrine, said Kuperwasser. “This is also the logic of the [elite] Radwan Unit in the Hezbollah. The Hamas attack has many Iranian footprints, as well as, to a lesser extent, Hezbollah,” he said.
He emphasized that preventing Iran from supplying further weapons to its proxies should be a top future Israeli goal.