After months of recurring provocations along the Israel-Lebanon border and an attempt to set off a lethal explosive in Israeli territory, Hezbollah hinted that the current situation could lead to a war against Israel, justifying this by claiming they are answering their duty to be the "defenders of Lebanon." The organization's narrative is largely based on the Israeli takeover of the northern territory of the Alawite-Arab village of Ghajar, located in the Golan Heights - an area that, according to the UN decision in 2000, belongs to Lebanon.
Nearly a year ago, the local council completed the construction of a new border fence, accompanied by a wall, which Hezbollah claimed the IDF had constructed in a move to complete the occupation of the Lebanese part of the village.
The Iran-backed group called on the Lebanese government to take immediate action to "liberate" the village and "return it to its homeland." From the perspective of the powerful Shiite group, it seems that its militants were ready for a brawl, as their attempts to engage in conflict with the IDF become more dramatic and frequent. Meanwhile, the IDF was taking action to eliminate this threat and avoid confrontation.
On Sunday, buses filled with Israeli tourists arrived in Ghajar, unloading dozens of first-time visitors. In September 2022, the military opened the checkpoint that had been closed to visitors from the village since the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon. From the opening and to this day, the village has been flooded with tourists.
"Since the village opened, it has been visited by no less than 900,000 visitors," Bilal Khatib, the spokesperson for the local council, said. "They come here to enjoy the authentic Syrian-Alawite cuisine and the scenery. People really enjoy it and say it feels like being abroad, visiting a Greek or Italian village."
After a missile was launched from Lebanon on Thursday, the IDF and Border Police reposted troops at the entrance gate of Ghajar. As Khatib was being interviewed, not far from the council building, several Lebanese parliament members gathered on the Lebanese side of the border as part of Hezbollah's campaign, apparently seeking to sway the public opinion in Lebanon and to prepare them for an imminent war.
"The provocation of the Israeli enemy in the northern part of Ghajar is an extremely dangerous aggression, a sustained attack on Lebanon's sovereignty, and a violation of all international norms," declared the members of parliament aligned with Hezbollah, who posted photos with Ghajar in the background on social media.
"This is our territory, and the Lebanese know it very well, even the old Syrian maps show it," explained Khatib, presenting such maps that indicate the village was under Syrian and not Lebanese control before the 1967 Six-Day War. Khatib blamed Ehud Barak, for allowing the UN to divide the village in half and declare it Lebanese: "It's clear they won't refuse the gift he gave them, but we haven't encroached on anyone else's territory, and we live well in our own lands and in hour homes."
Contrary to Hezbollah's accusations that Israel's "military aggression" in Ghajar, was aimed at paving the way for a military confrontation, Khatib said that it was actually the Ghajar local council that constructed and funded the new fence and wall.
"We had wild animals entering the village and in one case, a jackal carried away a child, and his mother had only noticed it at the last moment and pulled him back. There were many complaints from residents and they approached the head of the council, who requested the construction of a fence to prevent animals from entering," he said.
The security reinforcement in the village not only prevented wild animals from entering but also led to an influx of visitors and unprecedented tourism. "Hezbollah is envious and doesn't want the Israeli government to invest here," explained Avi Garyani, an IDF veteran of the Lebanon War who visited the village for the first time.
Ephraim Avraham, a wounded veteran of the Yom Kippur War, looked on with interest at Lebanese who were splashing in the waters of the Hasbani River, close by to where the anti-tank missile struck on Thursday morning, apparently in response to the military operation in Jenin. "I wasn't afraid to come here," he said. "Why should we be afraid? We fought against them, and we are not afraid of them. Why does our government need to show fear? We have a strong army, so why not use it?"
Tal Be'eri, the Head of the Alma Center think tank that concentrates on the Israel-Lebanon border, is convinced that the recent Hezbollah provocations, which began last April when an explosive device was detonated on the side of a major highway in the north, are being carried out with the clear understanding that they can lead to war. "Hezbollah's position is stronger than ever, both militarily and politically, and this is the ideal opportunity for them to engage in a war while Lebanon is in crisis and they could potentially increase their grip on the crumbling state," he said.
Be'eri, a former intelligence officer with years of experience in the Lebanese and Syrian arenas, said that since last week, Hezbollah has been shaping public opinion and constructing the narrative and justifications for war, even inside Lebananon and naming the matter of the wall in Ghajar as a central reason for engaging in a confrontation with Israel.
First published: 16:39, 07.10.23