Carrie Hart
News Analyst

A last-ditch effort at US diplomacy with Iran delays war

Hezbollah and Lebanese homes above the wall Israel is building along the border. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Lebanese homes used by Hezbollah, above the wall Israel is building along the border. Photo by Carrie Hart.

An escalation on Israel’s northern border seems to be leveling out, at least temporarily, due to a US diplomatic effort meant to constrain Iran from enriching uranium to the “breakout” point.

The Israeli government publicly opposes this last-ditch effort by the Biden Administration, because Israel thinks Iran won’t comply, and will use hidden underground facilities to continue their nuclear pursuits. Israel also believes that financial sanctions relief by the US will enable Iran to develop more lethal weapons, including improvements on Iran’s reported hypersonic missile.

Though not happy about this secret deal between the US and Iran, some Israelis are welcoming diplomacy instead of facing war. For Israel’s home front, this delay is a relief, especially for residences living in northern border communities. Many are still waiting for government money approved in 2022, to build safe rooms in their homes. While some villages are getting safe rooms built in their front-line communities, those residents living in Zarit are not. They have been told that the army will evacuate their community in a future emergency.

According to Lt. Col. (res.) Sarit Zehavi, Founder and President of Alma Research and Education Center, “If the decision inside the government is, ‘we are going to war,’ there will be an evacuation. Even if the plan is to evacuate them, they should have safe rooms.”

Zehavi started Alma in 2018 to create a platform of knowledge regarding Israel’s security challenges on its northern borders. Speaking to journalists in a briefing in Zarit a few weeks ago, Zehavi explained what Israel is up against, with armed enemies like Hezbollah stationed within meters of these communities.

Zehavi pointed out Hezbollah lookout points to journalists along the northern border road. In Zarit, there was a wall being built by the IDF, and right above that was the top of the hill. To the left, journalists could clearly see a Hezbollah guard tower about 80 meters away. To the right of that, were posters of Hezbollah and terrorist leaders; a UNIFIL building; and some large home structures, with no windows in them.

Zehavi said, “Some are fake, and some are real homes. They are 150 meters from the homes of the Israelis.”  Zehavi believes there are rocket launchers in those homes, placed there by Hezbollah.

In the past 1.5 years, Hezbollah has boldly increased its operations in the security zone between Israel and Lebanon. This area was supposed to be a demilitarized zone after the Second Lebanon War. Not only did that not happen, but Hezbollah also now has the potential to shoot an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) or machine gun directly at residents of Zarit. Because of Hezbollah’s blatant defiance of UN Resolution 1701, issued by the United Nations Security Council after the Second Lebanon War of 2006, Hezbollah continues to build its operations in the security zone.

Today, Hezbollah is so close to the Israeli border, they have the potential of hitting Israeli targets with short range weapons. They wait for directions from Iran to shoot, or to try and damage the wall Israel is building, in order to infiltrate border communities. For the most part, UNIFIL soldiers can be expected to stand by in a war situation, unable or unwilling to protect Israel. Zehavi is concerned these soldiers will become human shields for Hezbollah, so that Israel will hesitate to strike back.

Furthermore, this is not an area where the Iron Dome can easily be used because of Hezbollah’s close proximity to Zarit. There is no siren expected to sound an alarm, warning residents of an incoming rocket. In a future war, the residents will have only seconds to flee to a nearby shelter.

There are military assessments that take place, continually, between municipalities and the IDF in border communities like Zarit. Residents are assured they would be evacuated if a war starts. However, some of them are not optimistic they will be able to flee.

Rinat Carmel has lived in Zarit for 52 years. She calls herself a Zionist. “My parents came here to work the land; to feel close to the earth. They were from Nahariya when they married. My father came from Romania. My father was a farmer and he loved farming very much.”

Rinat says that her father settled in the village of Zarit because of its beauty and fertile land. She is raising her family in Zarit, and does not want to leave despite the constant surveillance and psychological warfare from Hezbollah. She feels like she must serve her country by providing stability and a sense of family in her community. Living on the border, despite the dangers, is a way Rinat fulfills that commitment. “I was born here, and I love it very much. I can’t explain it. It is really in my heart.”

Rinat spoke of the dangers to northern border communities in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Over the past several years, however, the stakes have been even higher. “Since then, the threat is more; you can feel it; you can sense it.”

Looking out over Hezbollah positions on the hill across from Zarit, journalists could see civilian and uniformed soldiers watching from a guard tower and from other positions. Rinat claims they are constantly observing every movement. “They are following you. They are writing things. There are some towers from my house, I can see. You will see them. They see me when I jog. And, they are looking at me with their binoculars. I can see them watching me. So, this is not a good feeling…. I am living my life with the strange feeling that someone is stalking me.”

Rinat’s father is still alive. At almost 80 years old, he has no safe room in his house. Rinat worries about what will happen if the war starts. “If there is something happening, he has to run, at his age, to go upstairs. And, then to go to a shelter alone, which has no water; no where to lie down; or to just sit.”

The shelters are located outside of homes, and are there to protect residents from oncoming missiles. The shelters are clean and ready, according to Rinat, but there is no food stored in them.

Meanwhile, she thinks that if there is a war, Hezbollah will try to cross the security wall that Israel is building, while the IDF tries to get the residents out. “You understand the plan to evacuate from here to another settlement? Hezbollah, will close the road to Rosh Hanikra.”

Rinat explains if that happens, then residents would be forced to go south, into the forest. “There is no road that you can go with children and grandparents. You have to walk, but what if there is a bomb outside? I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Rinat’s husband is a former military official. She wants to ask him for his assessment of the situation, but at the same time, she admits to being afraid. “I don’t want to live in fear all day. So, I am trying to focus on a good life, good health, and the best I can do for this village.”

Rinat continues sharing what she thinks might happen, because to talk about it, helps her to accept the possible future reality. But, then, she stops. “When you live in fear, you are paralyzed. You can’t do anything. But, we are trying to do our best with what we have; trying to have fun and a good life.”

While Rinat voices her concerns about the future of her community, Sarit Zehavi talks about the evacuation plans for all northern communities. “For us, if you evacuate Zarit, you evacuate Tel Aviv. Both are legitimate in the state of Israel. Hezbollah will bomb everywhere in Israel, not just towards Rosh Hanikra… If the decision inside the government is that we are going to war, there will be an evacuation.”

Haifa residents have already been warned that Hezbollah wants to strike there as the center of its operations. Preparations are being made for long-term stays in shelters in that city.

For now, the north seems quieter than it has been in weeks. On Monday, the area of conflict was centered in Jenin, instead, where there was heavy fighting between the IDF and Palestinian terrorist cells. It was the first time in two decades that Israeli gunship helicopters were used to fight the battles.

Israel continues to complain about the US making an “unseen” diplomatic deal with Iran, that seems to be only a verbal agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared that the agreement means nothing to Israel, as long as Iran tries to find ways of creating and using nuclear weapons.

As the war mongering on both sides continues, Hezbollah will eventually look to demonstrate its power on Israel’s northern borders, in order to keep Israel distracted from its plans to attack Iran. But, for now, Israelis are trying to lead normal lives, as best they can, looking over their shoulder to see if war is still looming on the horizon.

Recently constructed Hezbollah tower in Lebanon along the Israeli border. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Lt. Col. (res.) Sarit Zehavi, Founder and President of Alma. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Rinat Carmel tells her story in Zarit, Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.


About the Author
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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