Hizbullah Taking Risks by Attacking Israel in Bid To Stay Relevant, Expert Says
Earlier this week, an explosive detonated on a northern Israeli highway; the terrorist who planted the bomb is suspected of crossing the border from Lebanon and is linked to Hizbullah
Tensions have risen on the Israel-Lebanon border, after a terror attack in northern Israel linked to Hizbullah. Experts now believe that Hizbullah is more willing to risk an escalation with Israel.
On Monday morning, an explosive detonated on Highway 65 near Megiddo Junction in northern Israel, seriously injuring Shareef ad-Din, 21, from the Arab village of Salem. The man suspected of planting the explosive crossed from Lebanon into Israel and was killed by Israeli security forces who opened fire on his car as it neared the border. According to the Israel Defense Forces, the suspected terrorist was wearing an explosive belt and carrying a rifle when he was shot and killed. The driver of the car was arrested and taken for questioning.
The IDF and the Shin Bet security service said on Wednesday that the terrorist who planted the explosive is suspected of belonging to the Hizbullah movement, adding that the terrorist appeared ready to commit an additional attack.
“The assessment is that neutralizing the terrorist prevented another attack,” according to the IDF.
Lt. Col. (res.) Sarit Zehavi, president of the Alma Research and Education Center and a former officer in the IDF Intelligence Directorate, told The Media Line that she estimates that even if the alleged bomber is not from Hizbullah, at the very least, Hizbullah knew about the planned attack.
Nobody can cross the border from Lebanon to Israel without the knowledge of Hizbullah
Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former foreign policy adviser to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who is an expert on Lebanon, says that Monday’s attack has the mark of Hizbullah even though it is not exactly the type of operation usually conducted by the Iran-backed movement.
“Nobody can cross the border from Lebanon to Israel without the knowledge of Hizbullah. Hizbullah has observation posts all along the border and nobody goes in and nobody goes out without their knowledge,” he said.
Neriah also explained that the device used by the alleged terrorist is exactly the type of explosive that Hizballah used in the past against Israeli forces when Israel had a military presence in southern Lebanon.
“It is clear that this terrorist began his operation with the knowledge and acquiescence of Hizbullah,” he said.
But he points out that Hizbullah has not taken responsibility for the attack. On the contrary, Neriah says that Hizbullah is blaming Israel of accusing it of being responsible for the attack in a bid to turn the Israeli public’s attention from its domestic political problems.
Zehavi says that for 15 years after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hizbullah acted as if it was not interested in renewing a direct confrontation with Israel. But in the last year, Hizbullah has changed its behavior.
Today, according to Zehavi, Hizbullah “is willing to take the risk and to raise the tension on the border, and to take more proactive activities and terrorist attacks against Israel, believing that it’s not going to deteriorate into war, but willing to take the risk.”
This behavior appeared last summer when Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to go to war with Israel amid the maritime border dispute, which was ultimately settled. “Eventually, there was no war, because the Lebanese got what they wanted,” Zehavi explained.
She attributes this change in what she calls Hizbullah’s “risk management,” to several possible factors.
Zehavi notes that Hizbullah was busy in other quarters for over a decade and now that it is no longer otherwise engaged it needs to continue to show its officers that it is working with a purpose. Hizbullah was engaged in the civil war in Syria which began in 2011, and the IDF discovery in 2019 of tunnels dug between Israel and Lebanon “probably shook the organization,” she said. Then, the pandemic appeared, “and what now?”
“You have 2,500 commando military operatives that are looking to do something, and you need to give them a cause,” according to Zehavi.
Maybe it’s all about Iran and something much more strategic that is happening not only in the Middle East but in the world
Another possible reason, according to Zehavi, could be the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon, and a war with Israel could be seen as an opportunity to attract money to the country. She also says that Hizbullah might interpret the domestic political issues in Israel as a weakness, signaling good timing for such an attack.
Finally, she posits: “Maybe it’s all about Iran and something much more strategic that is happening not only in the Middle East but in the world,” she says, adding that the globe is suffering from changes the balance of powers.
She also adds that China is becoming an increasingly important player as Russia is continuing its war on Ukraine, while Iran is getting closer to Russia, and to the nuclear threshold.
“Maybe all of that together gives Hizbullah confidence and the motivation to raise the tension with Israel,” she said.
Neriah notes that while he believes it is still early to judge based on this incident whether Hizbullah plans to escalate, he warns that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – which usually is a period of escalation in violence – is approaching.
“If there are what they call ‘provocations’ of the right-wing ministers, (Itamar) Ben-Gvir and others, demolishing houses in east Jerusalem and trying to again go to the Temple Mount, this would definitely trigger a reaction,” he said.
Neriah warns that this reaction could be followed by “Hamas firing from Gaza, Palestinian factions firing from Lebanon together with Hizbullah as an ally, and then the whole thing is different,” he said.
However, he stresses that the Israeli security forces are prepared for this kind of multifront threat and cites Israel’s War of Independence, where it fought Arab countries on several fronts. “Our army is mobilized to deal with several fronts at the same time,” he said.
Likewise, Zehavi says that Israel’s army, regardless of any internal political dispute, “is always capable of meeting the threats against the state of Israel. That’s why we survived for 75 years.”
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