The morning after Israeli planes reportedly attacked Hezbollah targets on the Lebanon-Syria border, many in Israel’s defense community are wondering how the Shiite terror group will respond, if it does so at all.
Hezbollah has so far offered few clues, downplaying or ignoring the reports of multiple strikes Monday night on a missile shipment or missile base in the Baalbek region.
On Tuesday morning, Hezbollah’s al-Manar channel opened its news broadcast with clashes on the Temple Mount between Palestinians and Israeli police (or “forces of the Zionist enemy” in its terminology).
The most overt reference on the al-Manar website to the reported Israeli attack was that “senior security officials did not confirm that there was an attack.”
Earlier, the network said there had been “no raid on Lebanese territory,” reporting only the “strong presence of enemy planes over the area north of Bekaa” in eastern Lebanon.
The al-Mayadeen channel, considered close to Hezbollah, also buried news of the attack late Monday. Its headline emphasized that “there were no injuries or damage” in the raid, contradicting reports of Hezbollah casualties in al-Arabaiya. The report seemed to telegraph to the Lebanese public how inconsequential the attack was.
This is how Hezbollah’s media operates. The late hour of the incident and its location, in a mountainous area right on the border, gave Hezbollah room to smudge the details of what exactly happened, and avoid the question many people are asking today in Lebanon: Did the missiles strike a target inside Lebanon or not?
Hezbollah, though, may be trapped by the wide availability of other, independent news sources. Minutes after the strike, independent Lebanese media were already reporting that missiles fired from IAF jets hit inside Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which has always boasted about being the defender of Lebanon, is trying to downplay the attack in a bid to avoid an ill-timed confrontation with Israel.
The Lebanese public understands by now that Hezbollah is up to its neck in the war in Syria. It sends its elite forces and invests most of its military efforts there, making an additional conflict against Israel unnecessary and highly risky. In addition, Hezbollah only recently joined the new unity government in Lebanon, and received several very senior portfolios.
Despite the radio silence early Tuesday, however, the organization will not want to let this attack go unpunished forever. The laundry list of incidents it needs to respond to is only getting longer: the assassination of Hassan Laqis, strikes in Syria, and of course the hit on Imad Mughniyeh in 2008.
It’s likely that Hezbollah will keep the Lebanese-Israeli front quiet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try to act elsewhere. A string of attempted attacks in 2012, including the deadly bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, underline that it could seek revenge by planning attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets abroad.