Hezbollah’s attempt to carry out a terrorist attack on the Israel-Lebanon border on Monday may have been foiled, but the strategic battle Israel is waging against the radical Shi’ite axis forming to its north is far from over, and may even pose new challenges in the next few days.
This is especially true when you consider the conflicting reports on the incident.
The Israel Defense Forces reported that troops in the Har Dov region near the border thwarted an attack by a Hezbollah cell that had crossed the Blue Line—the international demarcation that exists in the area in lieu of a border—but were warded off and fled back to Lebanon before they even opened fire.
Moreover, the military said that the cell did not even try to engage the Israeli troops, which is out of character for Hezbollah operatives.
Even more out of character was the fact that Hezbollah, Iran’s chief proxy in the Middle East, denied the incident ever happened.
This could, however, speak to the fact that Hezbollah is still looking to retaliate over the death of one of its operatives in an alleged Israeli strike in Syria last week.
If that is the case—and all signs point to that—it would explain a rather cryptic statement by IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, who told reporters Monday that “volatile days lie ahead” for the northern sector.
From a tactical standpoint, the IDF could report an operational success. Troops on the ground were on alert and ready, engaged the enemy immediately, and the protocols cordoning off the sector to civilians were executed smoothly.
Given the IDF’s moves, as well as the fact that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi were present at the Northern Command as the event unfolded, it seems that Israel predicted Hezbollah’s moves to a T.
Hezbollah, it seems, carried out this failed attack as an ad-hoc mission. Breaking it down, it makes no sense for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to send a sizable cell, in broad daylight, to an area practically crawling with Israeli troops.
In the past, Hezbollah would spend weeks on reconnaissance before attempting a cross-border attack. Monday’s attempt came across as improvised.
It is possible that the Shi’ite terrorist group felt pressured to mount a reprisal, or perhaps it just wanted the issue of retaliation over and done with before Muslims worldwide mark Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on Thursday. Or perhaps this was a PR stunt, as the very fact it took action allows it to keep fostering the narrative of “defender of Lebanon.”
However, the fact it chose to deny the failed attack even took place means it still has a score to settle with Israel, meaning the IDF will remain on high alert in the northern sector until further notice.
Many pundits argue that Israel cannot afford to miss an opportunity to deal Hezbollah a strategic blow, but the IDF was right to contain the incident and avoid escalation.
Israel has no reason to get dragged into a war over a tactical incident on the border. The main battle it is currently waging does not focus on preventing border infiltrations, rather on preventing Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and from providing Hezbollah with advanced weapons and the means to produce precision missiles.
As it doesn’t look like Iran plans to change its regional hegemony scheme, Israel is likely to keep insisting on its red lines.
Any border incident could potentially escalate into something much bigger, but if Israel launches a wide-scale military campaign, it must do so only for the right reasons.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz appear to be completely in sync on the issue. They would be wise to carry that through to other areas as well, especially against the backdrop of a potential security escalation.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.