Part 2 of analysis
Another reason for Hezbollah’s frustration is its inability to carry out an attack to avenge Imad Mugniyah’s assassination. Almost two years have passed since the killing of the arch-terrorist, and despite the pledges, the group failed in all its efforts to carry out an impressive attack against Israel, which it views as responsible for the assassination.
The main reason for this failure is that the group and its Iranian patrons face a series of constraints, which limit their ability to act. The main limitation is the need to carry out the revenge attack without being held directly responsible for it. On this front too, the Israeli deterrence created during the Second Lebanon War seems to work: Hezbollah does not wish to be accused prompting the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure because it chose to “settle a private score.”
For that reason, Hezbollah attempts to act against Israeli missions and nationals overseas via terror cells that cannot directly be linked to it or to Tehran. Utilizing such cells requires expertise and compartmentalization, which Hezbollah and Iran lack since Mugniyah’s killing. This is also the reason why some of the attempts have already been thwarted in Canada, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and in the Sinai.
However, Hezbollah has not given up: Its ongoing political failure in Lebanon reinforces the need to show an achievement and gain prestige.
Israel’s defense establishment has been accumulating information recently showing that Hezbollah has been boosting its efforts to gather intelligence and undertake preparations that would enable it to attack targets overseas as well as Israel’s civil aviation industry. This is the reason why senior Israeli officials occasionally make statements that make it clear to Hezbollah its acts are transparent and known, and that any such attempted attack – even if Hezbollah attempts to blur its connection to the attackers – will be met with a harsh Israeli response.
Clear statements uttered on the matter by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon were meant to illustrate that the so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” (disproportional response) formulated by Israel is valid and applicable in respect to a possible revenge attack for Mugniyah’s killing.
The third reason for the tensions has to do with Nasrallah’s efforts, with the aid of Syria and Iran, to equip the group with anti-aircraft weapons. The urgent need to establish an anti-aircraft Hezbollah arsenal in Lebanon is a lesson of the last war. Today, Hezbollah and its Iranian instructors clearly understand that the complete freedom enjoyed by the Israeli Air Force in Lebanon’s skies endangers the group’s missile and long-range rocket arsenal, as well as the new line of fortifications established in preparation for the next clash. They know well that large missiles can be spotted and hit relatively easily from the air (smaller rockets are indeed harder to spot and hit that way, yet their damage potential and range are limited.) Therefore, if Hezbollah wishes to effectively utilize its new missiles and fortifications, it must establish a complete anti-aircraft system premised on early-detection means, missile batteries, and shoulder-held missiles.
Based on reports in The Times, Hezbollah has been arming itself with mobile missile batteries. Israeli officials has made it clear that bringing anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems into Lebanon will constitute a fundamental change that would negatively impact the IDF (“a tie-breaking move we will not accept,” as the defense minister referred to is on several occasions.)
The Air Force has indeed proven in the past that it is able to effectively cope with and neutralize anti-aircraft systems that are more complex than what Hezbollah wishes to set up in Lebanon. However, this mission will require the IDF to dedicate – for a certain period of time – aircraft, means, and forces to that end. This timeframe can be used by Hezbollah in order to fire large numbers of missiles and rockets on Israel’s home front, including Air Force bases in central and northern Israel. This will further slow the move to eliminate the missile threat, while increasing the missiles’ killing and destruction potential.
Hezbollah and Iran have not given up their aspirations on the anti-aircraft front, and therefore the level of tensions regarding this issue has escalated as well. Meanwhile, Syria, which is currently interested in warming up its ties with Washington, does not rush to supply Hezbollah with what it wants. However, it is very possible that Nasrallah, in the framework of his decision to walk on the edge for political reasons, wants Israel to know that he is attempting to advance the anti-aircraft issue as well, in order to deliberately raise tensions on the northern front.
For the time being, there is no reason to assume that a flare-up is approaching. Yet as noted earlier, when there are enough fuel fumes in the air, one coincidental spark could start a fire. Israel must take this into account and make sure not to provide that spark. Once a government is established in Lebanon, we can assume that tensions will diminish somewhat.