Featured Post

Hezbollah plays by tit-for-tat – and it wants blood

Seeking to avoid escalation, Israel has accepted the terror organization's framework, which applies in Syria as well as Lebanon
A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah is an organization that likes parity, especially under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah. This zealous adherence to a tit-for-tat policy is what has brought us, once again this week, to a state of high tension in the north.

But the contours of the policy can be traced back at least to May 2000, when Israel, despite the many disagreements with Hezbollah about the precise border line, withdrew from south Lebanon to the UN-sanctioned international border. At the time, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was right to insist on international recognition of the border, as it forestalled any further claims Lebanon might make on the violation of state sovereignty.

Nasrallah, fully grasping the new restrictions within which his organization had to operate, marked the Har Dov region, where the Israel-Syria-Lebanon borders converge, as Lebanese territory. All Israeli action in that region was, in Nasrallah’s eyes, a breach of sovereignty. Hence the killing and kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers from Har Dov several months after the withdrawal, in October 2000.

Incredibly, this power grab became a fixed equation, whereby Israeli troops lowered their profile along the border fence. In the IDF, the policy was called “Zero Targets for Hezbollah,” even though in the vast majority of cases the troops were operating within Israel.

Nasrallah’s tactic succeeded at the time and he continues to reap its success to this day. Over the years, and all the way to this week’s current state of high alert, Nasrallah’s policy has stood the test of time. Whenever Hezbollah has been tested it has responded. So it was in October 2014, when the organization activated an explosive device on an IDF patrol in the area, wounding two soldiers. The Hezbollah attack was billed as revenge for an alleged Israeli strike that killed a Hezbollah operative near the Lebanese city of Tyre.

This parity, emplaced by Hezbollah and accepted without much ado by Israel, was significantly expanded upon in 2015. Not only will the terror-wielding organization respond to all perceived Israeli actions in Lebanon, but also, it announced, in Syria. In early January of that year Israel eliminated Jihad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah operative and son of one of its legendary commanders, in the northern Golan Heights, on the Syrian side of the border. Days later, Hezbollah responded. A missile attack in the Har Dov region killed two IDF soldiers. The fact that both sides sought to contain the confrontation and avoid further escalation, entrenched the new equation. From that point on, Syria and Lebanon were one and the same.

The most current reminder of the new parity was sent to Israel this past April. An anonymous drone fired two missiles at a moving vehicle on Syrian soil. The first was a warning shot. It struck the road ahead. The operatives within the car jumped out and escaped. Minutes later the second missile was fired, the vehicle destroyed. Someone was sending a message to Hezbollah: we know what’s going on and we can act. Hezbollah didn’t bide its time. A few days later three Hezbollah squads managed to approach the Israeli border and cut the fence. Someone was sending a message back to Israel: we also know what’s going on and we too can act. Parity, anyone…?

This is the precise background to the current tension. Hezbollah accuses Israel of killing one of its operatives in a recent strike in the area of Damascus. Israel does not make light of Hezbollah’s accusations and reacts accordingly. Therefore, Israel must assume, rightly from its perspective, that the question is not whether Hezbollah will respond, but how, and what will be a loss deemed significant enough to keep the equation in balance.

As in the past, Hezbollah seeks to force Israel to pay a price. Perhaps by attacking an Israeli outpost or patrol. Ever adherent to the terms of the equation, Hezbollah wants an eye for an eye, a life for a life. The question is, how far will the organization go in pursuit of that goal?

It must be taken into account that Hezbollah, in recent weeks, is an organization on a defensive footing, at least in terms of its own internal affairs in Lebanon. The demonstrators protesting the worsening economic downturn in the shadow of the coronavirus are not shy about pointing an accusatory finger at the Shiite organization that de facto controls the Cedar State. This is a situation that Nasrallah is not used to facing. Every time the social lava starts to boil in Lebanon, it’s a threat to Hezbollah. Therefore, a strike against Israel that gets out of hand could lead to a slippery and dangerous slope.

If the price exacted from Israel is overly severe, Israel will respond by attacking targets in Lebanon and it stands to reason that those targets will be carefully picked to deepen the internal strife there. In other words, targets that will induce those who oppose Hezbollah to ask themselves, is Hezbollah the savior of Lebanon or its sacker?

About the Author
Amir Bar Shalom is a military and security commentator at Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel's Hebrew language partner, as well as being a journalist, commentator and news presenter at channel 11 KAN NEWS and channel 1, Israeli TV. Bar-Shalom is also a research associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments