Although most Israelis fear Sept. 1 may bring with it a teachers’ strike, there is another reason we should be concerned: A possible war on Israel’s northern border in the wake of the most severe threats since 2006.
The very fact that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has emerged from the bunker where he has been hiding most of the past 16 years suggests that the effect of the crushing blow he was dealt in the 2006 Second Lebanon War has somewhat faded. Nasrallah’s swagger means he is convinced that the next flare-up with Israel will be very different from the one that saw him run into hiding in 2006.
Nasrallah is not the adventurous or gambling type. His many years at the helm have taught him how to spout lofty rhetoric while adopting a cautious posture. He is not going to suddenly launch a surprise missile barrage on Tel Aviv. On the other hand, he is apparently willing to play with fire, convinced he can control the blaze.
The threats he has been sounding are very clear: If Israel goes ahead with its plan to extract gas from the Karish field in the Mediterranean Sea without resolving its border dispute with Lebanon, the Shi’ite terrorist group will act to stop it, even if this means a full-scale conflagration.
To show just how serious he is, Nasrallah has sent drones towards the Karish floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO), and may very well do so again, or perhaps even escalate things by firing rockets in its general direction.
This poses a direct threat to Israel’s sovereignty and strategic assets. It could entail much greater consequences than just breaching the land border or targeting soldiers on it, which usually leads to rather limited hostilities that Israel chooses to contain.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently warned that Israel would retaliate for any provocation, and is ready for any campaign in Lebanon should the need arise. Senior Israeli officials have assessed that things could evolve into “multi-day” fighting, which is another way of saying a major confrontation along the border. But if this is the conventional wisdom, it suggests Israeli policymakers have yet to learn the lessons of 2006. “Days of fighting” ultimately morph into war, something for which Israel is ill-prepared.
Those who envision a multi-day offensive that would have Nasrallah fire missile barrages at Israeli cities and strategic assets while Israel responds by just destroying a few weapon depots or assassinating a few officials are kidding themselves.
In 2006, Israel showed mercy toward Lebanon, but this policy did not stand the test of time, because Lebanon and Hezbollah are one and the same. Israel failed to realize that by targeting the Lebanese state it would have been able to hurt the Shi’ite terrorist group.
Nevertheless, the Israeli aerial onslaught on Hezbollah’s Dahiya stronghold in Beirut—despite its disorderly approach—did have an impact. If Nasrallah wants war, Israel should prepare to go all in. But if Israel’s threats as to the catastrophic impact on Lebanon do not materialize once the war breaks out, Nasrallah will interpret it as yet another “divine victory,” laying the groundwork for yet another flare-up down the road.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.