Recent developments on the Lebanese–Israeli border all point to a single conclusion: Hezbollah and its leadership have taken the decision to intensify their calculated campaign of provocations against Israel. The excuses and pretexts that Hezbollah raises are mere distractions from this basic fact. Hezbollah saw an opportunity to humiliate and pressure Israel, and is taking it.
Emboldened by Israel’s domestic political chaos and paralysis, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, likely with significant Iranian encouragement, is out to pour salt in Israel’s wounds and place Israeli political and military decision-makers in uncomfortable dilemmas.
While it remains unlikely that Nasrallah seeks all-out war, every additional match that he lights increases the risk of a fire breaking out, even if, in Tehrans’s judgment, it would be best to avoid a full-scale war before the Iranian nuclear breakout.
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces announced that it had set off a non-deadly device on the border with Lebanon after it identified a group of suspects approaching the security fence and trying to sabotage it.
The suspects fled instantly at the sound of a large blast, though they were not seriously injured. This was Israel telling Hezbollah to stand down, while still trying to avoid an escalation.
Separately, IDF soldiers fired in the air to disperse a disturbance on the Lebanese side of the border.
In a televised speech marking 17 years since the start of the Second Lebanon War in 2006—which began when Hezbollah miscalculated and launched a deadly cross-border kidnap assault on IDF soldiers— Nasrallah declared that his terror army had set up an outpost in Israeli territory at Mount Dov, in an area Lebanon calls “occupied Shebaa Farms,” to draw attention to Israel’s control of the northern part of the village of Ghajar in the area.
Ghajar, made up of Alawites, was captured by Israel from Syria, not Lebanon, during the 1967 Six Day War.
In fact, Hezbollah’s claim to the area is merely a pretext for its brinkmanship against Israel.
So far, Israel has given diplomacy a chance as a means to evacuate the outpost, and succeeded in leading Hezbollah to evacuate one of two tents it had set up over the border. Yet every day that passes might be sending the wrong message to Nasrallah, who could be misinterpreting Israeli restraint as a confirmation of his theory that Israel is getting weaker.
As part of the defiant image he is seeking to portray, Nasrallah warned in his speech that Hezbollah will retaliate if Israel targets the remaining tent militarily.
Israel’s National Security Council has received a list of Hezbollah’s demands and conditions, which mainly center on the location of the Israeli security barrier being built at Ghajar.
Hezbollah’s claim that this barrier erodes Lebanese sovereignty is both baseless and telling, since it reflects the terror organization’s concern over progress made by Israel in its construction of an extensive new border barrier. This structure is a combination of a tall fence, a wall and artificial cliffs that would force Hezbollah’s elite Redwan Force to climb up and expose their location in any future cross-border offensive, and an array of advanced detection sensors. Hezbollah has good reason to be concerned that the new barrier will challenge its ability to launch a ground assault into Israel’s Galilee.
Ultimately, however, Hezbollah senses weakness and division in Israel, and this is emboldening it. Nasrallah views domestic developments in Israel as negatively affecting the Jewish state’s relationship with the United States, and he is out to exploit, with Iranian backing, what he sees as an opportune moment to embarrass the Israeli government.
The way Israel now handles the matter will be critical. From a defense perspective, the tent in its remote location near the fence does not threaten Israeli security, but from a symbolic perspective, it is an icon created by Hezbollah to violate Israeli sovereignty.
Nasrallah’s willingness to cross the Blue Line and send armed terrorists into the area is, therefore, one more match in an increasingly combustible situation.
Sooner later, he will start a fire.