The experts’ point on the tensions between the Jewish State and Lebanon
The opening of a second front with Israel is possible if the “war crimes” against the Palestinians and the blockade on Gaza continue. Word of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who expressed himself thus from Lebanon, where he met Prime Minister Najib Miqati, but also – according to the media of the Land of Cedars – the number one of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah . There have been days of tension on the border between Israel and Lebanon, following Saturday’s attack by Hamas in Israelwith exchanges of artillery and rocket fire and Israel’s deployment of reservists in areas towards the border with Lebanon.
US analysis: “massive attack” in sight?
Also a false alarm in Israel. Experts have described Hezbollah as the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world. But it would be unlikely, writes the Washington Post on the basis of a US intelligence document, “a massive attack” by Hezbollah, the political party (with the largest number of seats in Parliament in Beirut together with its allies) and armed group supported by ‘Iran.
Yet, writes in a Haaretz analysis, Israel “walks a thin line” between Gaza and Lebanon, “waiting for Hezbollah’s next move” and the Israeli army will have to decide whether to focus on one front or both. Just yesterday, after the meeting of NATO defense ministers, Lloyd Austin (today in Tel Aviv) specified that the United States sees “no strengthening of forces on the border” by Hezbollah.
Above all among commentators, writes the Israeli newspaper, there are those who are pushing to ‘take advantage’ of the war for another offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to destroy the group’s capabilities in southern Lebanon and avoid a repeat of the attack from the north of Hamas from Gaza. And among the Israeli military leaders there are those who believe that in the north it is better to concentrate on ground defenses, with massive air strikes if necessary. “It is a question of priorities, where to focus and – we read in Haaretz – to what extent it is possible to operate simultaneously in both directions, while also fearing terrorist attacks from the West Bank and incidents inside Israel”.
Hezbollah willing to join Hamas?
High-level US administration officials, CNN reported on Wednesday after tensions on the border between Israel and Lebanon, do not believe that Hezbollah is willing to join Hamas. At the beginning of the year, the Post highlights, US intelligence analysts saw a predictable balance between Israel and Hezbollah, albeit still with violence, which reduced the risk of a full-scale war in 2023. A February analysis by the management of Intelligence for the Chiefs of Staff speaks of a position of “mutual deterrence” on the part of Israel and Lebanon since in October 2022 – after 11 years – the two countries reached an agreement to delimit the maritime borders.
Tel Aviv and Hezbollah’s measures to “stay ready”
Thus, according to the document obtained by the Washington Post, Israel and Hezbollah have adopted measures to “remain ready” for the use of force, but have remained “within their historical models”, i.e. avoiding casualties and responding proportionately to provocations . However, the analysis also highlights factors that could upset the balance such as Hezbollah’s “inability” to “restrain Palestinian militants”, such as Hamas, active in Lebanon. In April, 34 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon in the direction of Israel, an attack (the worst in years) attributed to Hamas by the Israeli military. A day earlier, Hamas leaders had met Hezbollah secretary general Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon. For months, the analysis finds, “Israel has perceived a high risk of miscalculations due to Hamas plots in Lebanon.” Basically, for US intelligence, the Post summarizes, even if Hezbollah may not be interested in triggering a conflict with Israel, nothing is entirely under its control.
According to the US State Department, Hezbollah has tens of thousands of members and supporters around the world and receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year from Iran. According to open Israeli sources, Hezbollah has increased its arsenal of rockets and missiles from around 15,000 pieces in 2006 to 130,000 in 2021. Nasrallah claims command of 100,000 fighters. “So far – writes Haaretz – there has been the impression that he is giving his contribution to Hamas from the north, but that he has not yet decided to completely join the fighting, or that he has decided on a policy of ‘disturbance’ in preparation for a attack when Israeli forces are engaged in the Gaza Strip.” At a time when the Israeli forces speak of “extraordinary” cooperation with the Americans and of strong support from the United Kingdom, continues the analysis of the Israeli newspaper, the hope is that the strengthened American military presence (with the sending to area of the aircraft carrier strike group Gerald Ford) serves as a deterrent to Hezbollah and Iran.
For Matthew Levitt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah is now more likely to benefit from the war in the south. “I see (Hezbollah) gradually trying to change the rules of the game,” he said, quoted by the Post. “I expect to see little things from time to time along the border as Hezbollah tries to remember that they are there.” Hezbollah’s rhetoric, the newspaper highlights, has already changed and if initially the group – through the mouth of Hashem Safieddine – had declared itself “not neutral in this battle” after the Hamas attack in Israel, subsequently ‘moderation’ leaked from the statements from the group, with calls for solidarity and protest, while underlining that the “resistance” is ready for a possible confrontation. Positions, the newspaper underlines, very different from those of other armed groups in the area which, such as the Houthis of Yemen and Kataib Hezbollah of Iraq, have threatened attacks in response to US military aid to Israel. The risks of escalation are never lacking. Especially with provocations. And, in Levitt’s words, “the risk of miscalculation is exceptionally high.”