Tension grows on Lebanon’s border with Israel

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  May 9, 2023

Many Israelis believe that a confrontation with Lebanon’s Hezbollah would be devastating. Tension on the border continues, though, with a number of incidents in recent weeks.

Hezbollah has been preoccupied since 2011 with aiding the Syrian regime. However, Israeli analysts think that it has been tempted back to the border with the occupation state because Israel’s deterrence factor is weakening, not least because of Washington’s preoccupation with the war in Ukraine, China’s activities in the Far East, and international developments towards a multipolar world, where the US no longer has absolute power to help Israel.

Hezbollah also knows that Israel’s domestic political crisis that has affected the “Israel Defence Forces” is another weakness. It is now possible to challenge Israel simultaneously on different fronts and the militia’s threats to target Israeli gas platforms can no longer be ignored. The group is confident about its capabilities, but still holds back from attacking Israel. It did not respond to the Israeli Air Force attack on Lebanese territory. Dragging Lebanon into war against Israel could potentially make Hezbollah history.

Israel is still worried, though; as long as Hezbollah is talking about the domestic situation in the occupation state, there is no doubt that both consider the Lebanon-Israel border to be a weak point. The visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Syria and the rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh combine with weakened relations between Israel and the US in being detrimental to Israel’s national security.

Meanwhile, the mere possibility of Iran and Hezbollah carrying out joint military action against Israel across the occupation state’s northern border could see Israel’s enemies viewing it as a sign of weakness and starting to make plans. The current far-right Israeli government is damaged and becoming more and more dangerous to Israelis themselves. There is good reason for concern, as the general tendency is to weaken Israel in terms of national security, which means that it is facing the most serious threat right now.

In the same context, Israeli security officials have revealed aggressive action by the army at the Lebanese border, at a time when the area has witnessed escalating tension for several weeks. The border fence was cut in three different places, with the purpose of identifying potential infiltration points, and sending a message to Hezbollah that if it opened fire, it would lose.

A comprehensive, large-scale military operation of a kind that has not been carried out for years on the Lebanese border, took place a few days ago. Troops from three Israeli reserve battalions went across the border into Lebanon. They breached the border fence and carried out surveys in the field to get to know the area and improve operational readiness for war in an area under Israeli control.

The beautiful scenery along the border does not disguise the state of high alert regarding armed forces infiltrating occupied Palestine as more Lebanese approach the border, especially at one of the enclaves at the foot of the narrow streams separating Palestine from Lebanon. There was a readiness to cross over, in a move secured by artillery and armoured vehicles approaching the thin blue line of the international border.

This latter Israeli military activity came just weeks after a Palestinian gunman infiltrated from Lebanon and carried out an attack at the Megiddo intersection, while 40 missiles were fired at the settlements in the Galilee and the Golan Heights, something that had not happened since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Occupation forces believe that Iran and Hezbollah are testing their ability to change the rules of the game in the face of Israeli and US hesitation, in a way that threatens to widen the gap between Washington and Tel Aviv.

While much is still not clear about what exactly happened in Megiddo, it is obvious that there is a force in Lebanon, either Lebanese or Palestinian, that has advanced military professionalism and the ability to cross the border. The well-armed fighter carried out his mission without anyone in Israel being aware of the intention, decision or implementation.

Developments on the northern border of the occupation state are taking place even as Israel continues to target Hezbollah in Syria in the effort to curb the military power of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. However, the Israeli understanding of the Lebanese reality is wrong and displays a lack of awareness of recent changes. Efforts are thus made to change the realities on the ground and adopt a new strategy.

This Israeli frustration reveals its reluctance to confront Hezbollah, as well as fears that the movement’s confidence will increase to a point where it targets more Israeli sites, putting itself at uncalculated risk. Escalation with Palestinians in the West Bank and the internal Israeli crisis have led Lebanese forces to be less limiting when evaluating the situation and adopting new policies.

Israelis believe that Hezbollah and the Palestinian forces present in Lebanon are seeking to create a new equation according to which they will be allowed to tackle the Israeli army across the border, while avoiding claims of responsibility. This could prompt Israeli responses, but they would be met forcefully. Israel will have to respond, though, otherwise it will be concluded that Israeli deterrence is no more, and there is room for more hostility across the northern border.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza