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Israel Gazes Warily to the North

Many in the Israeli defense establishment believe Hezbollah is gearing up for war


During a recent defense cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, one of the ministers posed a question to army chief of staff Aviv Kochavi:

Israel has been at war with Iran or its proxies for much of this decade. At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, air strikes attributed to Israel targeted Iranian military convoys passing through Syria on their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since December 2017, at least a portion of the strikes have targeted Iranian combat systems and army bases of Shiite militia allies of Iran. As a result, the minister continued, Iran has now moved its construction projects to Lebanon, where it is building more bases and munition factories for perfecting missile capabilities. Is there some concrete goal of action? the minister wanted to know. When does this campaign end? Or will this game of cat and mouse continue for the foreseeable future?

At which point another minister interjected, “And who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?” eliciting roars of laughter around the table.

When the merriment subsided, the chief of staff addressed the question directly: The campaign of air strikes against Iranian targets has spurred Tehran to question the effectiveness of its campaign to build up offensive capacities along Israel’s border. Iran also understands that Israel is expanding the theater of conflict, Kochavi added, to Iran’s borders. It’s a complex struggle, he said, one in which there are both successes and failures.

However, while the chief of staff may have answered the minister’s question, the public feels less secure. Over the last two weeks, Israel has been in a state of apprehension. A drone strike in Beirut attributed to Israel led to a retaliatory attack by Hezbollah on Sunday near Moshav Avivim, which hugs the northern border with Lebanon. Though most analysts believe the current skirmish is over, many in the Israeli defense establishment believe that Hezbollah is gearing up for war.

Based on Hezbollah’s past behavior, it’s reasonable to assume that its forces are already arrayed along the Israeli border, and will look for a weak point to attack in the future. The IDF has made clear that if Hezbollah crosses a line with a full-out assault, however, its missile project will be utterly obliterated. In the past two weeks the Northern Command, the air force, and the intelligence directorate have all been on emergency footing.

As part of an attempt to deter Hezbollah, Israel exposed details of the terror group’s precision-guided missiles project. The message was simple: We’re not interested in war, but we also won’t accept precision-guided missile batteries on Lebanese territory.

Hezbollah is currently working on building reinforced munitions factories for developing missiles in Beirut, the Lebanon valley, and the country’s south. In order to supply the terror group with the materials necessary for manufacturing the guided missiles, Iran has built three supply routes: a land bridge through Syria, a sea passage, and a third route that passes through the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. The exposure of the manufacturing and supply sites is intended to create a sense of vulnerability in the Hezbollah leadership, to make them believe that Israeli intelligence is following their every move.

For now, that vulnerability is shared by the Israeli public.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 776)

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