Will Lebanon’s deteriorating state deter Hezbollah or cause the terror organization to start a war with Israel?
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
The IDF believes Hezbollah in Lebanon is Israel’s most serious military threat for 2021 and beyond, Israel Hayom reported Sunday.
Hezbollah is a member of the Lebanese coalition, but acts as an independent force, both socially and militarily, and the government has no power to stop it. The Iranian proxy has more than 70,000 missiles of various ranges and 30,000 mortar shells. Israeli intelligence estimates that about 100 projectiles have been modified into precision-guided missiles, which worry officials the most.
However, the top security echelon does not yet believe that the threat is serious enough to justify a pre-emptive strike on the organization. The IDF has sufficed with flying many sorties to prevent more missiles being equipped with such guidance mechanisms. The report also noted that “for now, the Zionist response to Hezbollah’s precision project has been secret, classified operations and public exposure of the project in order to thwart it.”
The army has also often simulated Hezbollah attacks, in order to hone the country’s defenses. On Sunday, the Home Front Command began its most recent drill, a week-long affair to practice how to deal with a massive missile barrage, a strike on a hazardous material plant, and a possible Hezbollah raid over the border, among other scenarios.
There is currently a certain level of mutual deterrence between Hezbollah and Israel, as neither side is interested in an escalation. However, Israeli security sources believe that the pressure of the deteriorating state of the country may change the equation, said the report.
Lebanon is currently in very fragile condition, one of the worst in its history, in almost all ways. Its financial situation is dire, with hyperinflation looming and its GDP plummeting. Politically it has been almost frozen for years, but most especially after a massive explosion in Beirut in 2020 led to the government resigning. A new coalition was only recently formed but it has not taken on the challenges facing the country. Hezbollah has been blocking the investigation into the blast, caused by the terrorist organization improperly storing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the capital’s port.
Ethnically and socially, the country is in danger of falling back into Christian-Moslem strife that led to a 15-year-long war toward the end of the last century. While the largest Christian group has allied itself with Hezbollah, another one, the Patriotic Forces, blames the country’s troubles on the Iranian proxy and earlier this month a shootout occurred between the groups during a protest in Beirut.
The question is whether Hezbollah will try to turn the Lebanese people’s attention away from its troubles, and the governmental responsibilities it is not shouldering, by starting a war with Israel. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah regularly threatens Israel, but in August he backed up his words with actions that hadn’t been seen since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
After Palestinian organizations in Lebanon launched three rockets over the border, the IDF shot cannon fire in return and then the IAF carried out a limited airstrike as well. Two days later, Hezbollah shot 19 rockets at Israel. To calm the situation, Israel only reacted by firing a few dozen artillery shots instead of sending in the air force again.
Israel still always has to take into account Hezbollah’s backers. The Iranians, who support Hezbollah financially and with military training, rocket expertise and weaponry supply, are not sitting still. In another Sunday report, Israel Hayom cited the website of an American-based Iranian opposition group, Farashgard, that wrote that the commander of the Iranian Quds Force landed in Beirut Thursday to meet with his Hezbollah underlings.
It said that Gen. Esmail Ghaani arrived to begin preparing the group to receive Iranian air defense systems of its own, unconnected to those of the regular Lebanese army. Israel regularly sends its jets over Lebanese territory to strike at both Hezbollah and Iranian military sites in Syria, which Iran would like thwart via its biggest proxy force.
Like all the rest of developing situations, the IDF will take this new twist into account as well when assessing the danger from the north.