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September 2, 2019 10:01 am

Guns Fall Silent in the North, But the Strategic Threat Remains

avatar by Israel Hayom / JNS.org

Analysis

IDF soldiers look on toward people standing next to the Israel-Syria border fence on the Golan Heights, July 17, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

JNS.org – Israel’s success in foiling Hezbollah’s revenge attack on Sunday was the result of several factors: excellent intelligence, experience in the northern sector against the Iran-backed terrorist group, proper deployment of forces and a clever ruse.

The IDF’s Northern Command and Galilee Division did a good job preparing the border area in the week that passed since Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s fiery speech last Sunday in which he vowed revenge for Israel’s alleged drone strike in Beirut.

On Sunday, a Hezbollah cell fired guided anti-tank rockets at an armored vehicle which also functioned as a military ambulance. The vehicle was parked in a designated position in an IDF outpost near the border. Soldiers from the Commando Brigade, who were sent to the northern sector several days ago, exited the vehicle shortly before the attack.

The ruse consisted of a media blackout involving “wounded” soldiers, including their staged evacuation to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. The IDF simultaneously struck a series of targets in Lebanon (all carefully chosen to avoid civilian casualties).

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Lebanese media outlets, mainly those affiliated with Hezbollah, were quick to celebrate the wounding of Israeli soldiers. Only later did the IDF spokesperson issue a statement saying no troops had been hurt.

The success of the IDF’s deception allowed Sunday’s skirmish to end without casualties, although it still isn’t clear if the incident is entirely over. It all depends on the story Hezbollah tells itself and on Nasrallah’s credibility in the eyes of his personal and political supporters. If the Lebanese people believe the attack succeeded, and that Israel is lying and concealing its casualties, the army can lower its alert level and wrap the incident up with a ribbon.

However, if they don’t buy it, Hezbollah could look to strike again.

Hence, over at least the next 24 hours, Israel must continue keeping close tabs on movements in Lebanon and maintain operational readiness. It must also study the incident and learn the necessary operational lessons. Hezbollah fell for the trap, but won’t easily do so again. It too will learn, make corrections and improve to ensure success in the future—perhaps the near future.

The IDF’s effective tactical conduct appears to have prevented a broader conflagration in the northern sector. the Northern Command prepared for the possibility that Hezbollah would pull off a large terrorist attack, possibly leading to an all-out war.

That scenario did not materialize, but the threat still exists. Although Hezbollah claimed the attack was retaliation for the deaths of its two operatives in Syria last week, in which the IDF thwarted a planned drone strike on Israeli targets, the organization mostly wants to avenge the alleged Israeli drone attack in south Beirut last Sunday, which reportedly targeted equipment necessary for the manufacture of precision missiles.

The strategic threat wasn’t neutralized on Sunday. Hezbollah is still licking its wounds from the drone strike in Beirut, but alongside its promises of revenge, it will also seek other ways to amass an arsenal of precision missiles. While Israel has already drawn clear red lines in the proverbial sand, the mysterious drone strike on the Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut, together with the ensuing public relations campaign, might not be enough to deter the terrorist group. It’s likely Israel will soon again be faced with the dilemma of whether to launch an attack aimed at mitigating the damage of a future war, knowing that doing so could ignite a war now.

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