The message behind the missiles

Mohamed Al-Qazzaz, Tuesday 11 Apr 2023

Mohamed Al-Qazzaz seeks the help of Lebanese analysts to decipher the messages behind the recent missile attack from South Lebanon on Israel

The message behind the missiles
Italian UN peacekeeper soldiers inspect a small bridge that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Maaliya village, south Lebanon (photo: AP)


As the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah rushed to wash its hands of the barrage of rockets fired from southern Lebanon into Israel during the Passover holidays, an avalanche of questions has arisen on the significance of the attack being carried out from Lebanese land, Israel’s reactions, and the repercussions of the bombings on the recent Saudi-Iran agreement.

For some, the air strikes recalled memories of the Palestinian resistance in South Lebanon, the Cairo Agreement of 1969, and the subsequent existence of “Fatahland” – South Lebanon’s nickname due to Fatah’s predominance there – and “Hamasland” elsewhere.

But they also posed question marks on whether they had to do with the meeting between Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political office, and Hizbullah’s Chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Nabih Awada, a Lebanese pundit and expert in Israeli affairs, discerned several messages underlying the recent launch.

“The resistance sought to convey that it had transitioned from the paradigm of ground attacks to unlocking multiple fronts. This was evidenced by the diverse modalities and origins of engagement and confrontation in the recent attacks,” he said.

“There were incursions into Megiddo through the Israeli borders, planting bombs, as well as fighters arriving at Tiberias and Karish. In all instances, these movements and incursions served to underscore deficiencies in the Israeli security apparatus.”

The rockets were launched in tandem with the Israeli attack on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sending a message that the Palestinian people have the right to engage in their existential fight in the face of an Israeli government that murders people every day and seeks their elimination, Awada said.

He cited the words of “extremist Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who called for the eradication of the village of Hawara in the West Bank in response to the resistance’s operation.”

“This extremist response was given by the occupying government, which is currently grappling with a governance crisis regarding the nature of the regime, resulting in a loss of internal cohesion in Israel and poor domestic and international performance.”

Despite the resistance’s accumulated experience in Lebanon and Palestine and the possibility that it should benefit from the chaos in Israel, Israeli security sources said the Israeli military had succeeded in striking back in attacks that will not lead to an escalation.

In Lebanon, Israel opted for surface strikes by replacing artillery bombardment with six air-to-surface missiles launched at an unpopulated agricultural area during the night. Politically, it sought to justify its avoidance of holding Hizbullah accountable for fear of expanding the conflict zone. Israel is well aware of the high costs of engaging with the increasingly experienced and well-equipped resistance in Lebanon.

Several sources in Lebanon have suggested that Hizbullah adheres to a policy of refraining from responding to or acknowledging any accusations as part of its “ignore and move on” strategy in the ongoing psychological warfare with Israel.

All the Israeli attacks on Gaza following the missiles that were launched from Lebanon did not result in a single injury, which means that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want to engage in a battle or provoke the resistance, as he is well aware of the dangerous consequences that could ensue, as were seen in the Battle of Saif Al-Quds, they said.

While Israel has not directly accused Hizbullah of being behind the attacks, it has hinted at postponing any potential confrontation. It may also resort to indirect intelligence and security operations, as understood from the participation of the head of the Mossad intelligence agency in all relevant security, military, and political discussions and the cabinet session in Israel.

Former Lebanese minister of Social Affairs Richard Kouyoumjian, responsible for foreign relations in the Lebanese Forces Party, does not believe that the missile launch from South Lebanon has any impact on the recent Saudi-Iranian agreement.

The majority of the Lebanese denounced the missile attack, especially as the missiles were launched from an area controlled by the UN forces UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, as per UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

This means that the attack represents a violation of Resolution 1701 and a violation of Lebanese sovereignty, he added. Unfortunately, he noted, there is no true sovereign state in Lebanon, as the government’s decision-making apparatus is either absent or ineffective, and the UN has failed to address Hizbullah’s security and military presence in the UNIFIL area of operations.

Kouyoumjian said that no Palestinian faction, including Hamas, can fire a bullet without the knowledge and approval of Hizbullah. He believes that the timing of Hizbullah’s reception of Haniyeh, coinciding with the missile launch, was a deliberate message to signal its continued presence and that the rules of the game will not change with the Saudi-Iranian agreement.

The agreement includes a clause requiring respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. Hizbullah wanted to convey that it still holds the cards of strategic decision-making and peace and war despite the agreement, he said.

He added that it is ironic that in the light of the grave violations against the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli government, Hizbullah told Israel via European channels that it does not want to see escalation and denied its responsibility for the attack.

This behaviour is particularly troubling given that the battle of Hamas and other factions is taking place in Gaza and the Occupied Territories, yet Haniyeh was in Beirut at the time of the missile launch, Kouyoumjian said.

With the time of “Fatahland” now over, it is being replaced by “Hizbullahland” and this will only lead to further collapse and isolation for Lebanon, as it prioritises the strengthening of a mini-state at the expense of the larger state and its people, he added.

Lebanese political expert George Alam, an expert on Palestinian affairs, said the missile attack came at a critical time for Lebanon’s government and people. He said that Lebanon is currently without a president or a constitutional government, while the missiles were launched from an area controlled by Hizbullah, which has long been coordinating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

This allowed the groups to be physically present in the Palestinian camps across Lebanon, he said, noting that the missiles could not have been fired without coordination between the Palestinian factions and Hizbullah.

In addition, Alam said, the missiles were launched at a fateful moment, as if they were targeting the Saudi-Iran deal. A rapprochement between the Gulf and Iran is rejected by some forces, he added. The deal minimises the power of the Iranian Islamic Republican Guards Corps in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. “In my opinion, the Corps does not want the agreement to succeed,” Alam said.

He said that Hizbullah also stands in opposition to the deal, seeing it as undermining its influence in Lebanon and the region.

The Arab agreements ahead of the Arab Summit slated for May in Riyadh are now starkly visible. Saudi Arabia wants the Summit to be successful on all levels, including on the level of presidential representation, with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad scheduled to attend the summit meeting.

The summit may also reflect positively on Arab openness towards the holding of presidential elections in Lebanon.

The parties in opposition to the current accords in the region, especially that between the Gulf and Iran, stand to benefit from creating armed chaos, and they want to exacerbate tensions in South Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. But the influential powers have no interest in inflaming wars in the Middle East at this sensitive juncture.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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