Sparring has returned between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel. Mutual threats in which candid and harsh words have been exchanged, reveal what the situation would look like if the two sides became entangled in a military confrontation, whether one accurately calculated or hastily done.
It is not far-fetched that we would witness an attack by Hezbollah on Israel’s Dimona Nuclear Reactor in the Negev Desert or on Israeli natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean, which are close to Lebanese territory and maritime borders. A missile attack on factories and plants producing dangerous chemical substances near Haifa in the middle of Israel, is another possibility.
It is no more far-fetched to foresee a devastating Israeli aerial attack on Lebanese infrastructure, which the country’s intelligence minister Yisrael Katz has said would “return it to the Middle Ages.”
Katz, along with Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, have painted these scenes on several occasions.
Security reports closely linked to the Israeli Army speak at length on the growing missile power of Hezbollah, saying it has more than doubled in comparison with the group’s capacity during the barbaric Israeli aggression on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
The reports say the same of Hezbollah’s fighting capabilities, given their combat experience in Syria against armed groups financed and trained by the Americans, the Turks and the Gulf Arabs.
According to Israeli reports, Hezbollah have 130 thousand missiles or more, of different kinds and ranges, some of which are capable of reaching any spot in Israel. They are Iranian-made and Russian-made and some are American.
It is likely that these reports exaggerate the power and ammunition of Hezbollah. They can be read as an effort to inflate the threat to Israeli security, priming public opinion to accept and support Tel Aviv, should it decide to launch a war on the group, whether in Lebanon or in Syria.
Tel Aviv would claim such war as a necessity to protect the country from a threat which is growing in power and ferocity. It is not possible to minimise Hezbollah's capacity to strike back powerfully and harshly on any Israeli war, whatever false reasons Tel Aviv employs.
Here is the rub that lies in front of the Israeli decision-maker, especially given that Israel’s ferocious war on Hezbollah and the whole of Lebanon in 2006 did not achieve its stated objective: to terminate the military existence of Hezbollah and subsequently enhance Israel's security.
Despite Israel’s brutal attacks, Hezbollah proved then its strong defense and ability to launch successful military operations that destroyed much of Israel’s military equipment and personnel.
While Israel’s aggression ended with few security gains, Hezbollah retained its weapons in different areas in Lebanon. Subsequently, the group’s power and fighting capabilities have increased and its members grown accustomed to different kinds of combat fighting in cities, villages and mountains in the Syrian Civil War.
From the Israeli perspective, there are several reasons that push for aggression on Lebanon at this time. First, the US’ Trump administration, which strongly backs Tel Aviv, would not mind if Israel took it upon itself to trim Iranian regional fingernails. On the contrary, it may ask it to, given that Trump and his advisors see Iran as the world’s top source of terrorism.
There is no proof that such a matter was not discussed between Trump and Netanyahu during their last meeting in Washington. Generally, the new American milieu, which supports Israeli moves without limit, would tempt someone like Netanyahu to make war sooner, rather than later.
Second, Israel’s leaders are deeply convinced of the principle of preventive wars, which aim to kill in the cradle — or before they gets worse — what those leaders consider probable and dangerous threats such as Hezbollah and its weapons.
Third, no political solution in Syria will eliminate the gains Hezbollah has made, or encourage it to turn its gaze from Israel. Either the group will eventually return to Lebanon, where it will increase its power in the Lebanese scene, or it will continue to deploy in both Syria and Lebanon, and may venture close to the Golan Heights thus threatening the Israeli occupation there.
Ultimately, Israel sees Hezbollah as a problem with a military solution — which the Trump administration would protect — and the search continues for the perfect time and pretext to sell the idea in the marketplace of public opinion.
This can be seen in the Israeli UN delegate’s message to the Secretary General, which directly accused Lebanese President Michel Aoun of allowing Hezbollah to retain arms in defiance of UN resolutions no. 1701 and 1559. The delegate’s accusations came after Aoun said that the group’s arms complemented those of the Lebanese Army and were intended to deter aggression.
Such a message is nothing but preparation for a major military operation which may not be far off.