(October 23, 2018 / JNS) The recent disclosure of Hezbollah’s covert activity along the Lebanese border with Israel is part of the wide-scale campaign Israel is waging against the terrorist organization and its Iranian patron.
Disguised to appear as though they belong to an environmental advocacy group, the observation posts are themselves of tactical significance: They allow Hezbollah to maintain a presence on the border, in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the Second Lebanon War, and regularly collect intelligence it can use direct operational activity inside Israeli territory in real time.
But the disclosure is in fact of even greater significance. By exposing Hezbollah’s efforts on the border, Israel is in fact demanding the international community enforce its decisions and put an end to Hezbollah’s illicit activity. The move also serves as a warning to the Lebanese government, as well as the Lebanese people from Israel that this activity could drag Lebanon into a war, and that it is Hezbollah that would be responsible for such a development.
This disclosure is part of Israel’s so-called “campaign between the wars,” a strategic concept that encompasses a host of covert and low-intensity military and intelligence efforts to prevent enemy states and terrorist organizations from becoming stronger and thwart their offensive activity. While this campaign is known to make headlines when it involves an airstrike on an Iranian weapons convoy or facility in Syria, there are also other dimensions to Israel’s efforts, and they can involve diplomatic or economic efforts and even the media.
This is not the first time Israel is behind this type of report, which has appeared in both the local and foreign press. In some instances, the report is aimed at deterring an imminent attack, other times it is aimed at deterring the continuation of the illegal activity. When Israel exposed Hezbollah’s activities along the border in the past, it resulted in the organization lowering its profile. One can assume that officials in Israel hope that this most recent report will spur Hezbollah to pull back from these front-line observation posts.
Israel’s efforts to counter the observation posts is just one small piece in a much more complex puzzle, aimed at making Hezbollah’s and Iran’s operations more difficult. Israel also recently exposed the organization’s efforts to establish weapons factories inside Lebanon to convert previously unguided rockets into highly accurate missiles. Despite the media reports, it seems those efforts are ongoing. Several reports in recent days have even tied Israel to an attack on a weapons convoy in Lebanon, the first since the downing of a Russian plane last month. This has also been hinted at in speeches delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in which they said Israeli activity against Iran was ongoing, despite Russia’s decision to provide Syria with the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system following the Syrian army’s downing of a Russian plane last month.
Nevertheless, it seems Israel is now trying to keep this activity out of the public eye in the past, in order to avoid a new confrontation with the Kremlin. This concerted effort to not draw attention to its activities may also be the result of a certain slowdown in Iranian activity in Syria and Lebanon, which stems in part from Tehran’s desire to understand the repercussions of Russia’s new policy, as well as the difficulties it now faces as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and sanctions implemented by his administration.
These challenges are expected to exacerbate on Nov. 4, when an additional wave of U.S. sanctions on Iran take effect. Israeli officials believe it will be difficult for Iran to circumvent these sanctions, which are set to deliver another serious blow to its economy. As a result, the ayatollah regime will need to decide whether to continue to invest billions of dollars every year in wars in places like Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and risk further angering its citizens by squandering state funds to this end instead of investing them in the Iranian people. Iran could also decide to decrease funding overseas, a move that would be detrimental to its efforts to the export of the Islamic Revolution and Tehran’s customers, among them Hezbollah.
These measures will have a direct impact on the security situation in the north, and to a lesser extent in Gaza. As it stands, the southern front is still much more volatile than the north, which poses a more dangerous threat due to the might of Hezbollah. Nonetheless, the Shi’ite organization is being very cautious, and despite this new-old activity on the border, is taking care to avoid an escalation with Israel, which for the time being, is the last thing it wants.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.