The rocket fire on the western Galilee on Thursday was the work of a Salafist Sunni terror organization, operating from within the boundaries of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon or the surrounding area. The strike claimed no Israeli victims beyond a few panic attacks and will probably not draw a major response from the IDF. But the event does shed some light on the ever-more-chaotic situation to the north.
South Lebanon, long beyond the control of the central government in Beirut, has been ruled by Hezbollah for decades. That organization is hierarchical and disciplined and tends to act within the confines of its own suicidal rationality. Thursday’s attack, not unprecedented, nonetheless is an indication of a slackening of Shiite Hezbollah control.
“When the cat is gone, the mice come out of their holes,” said Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University, noting Hezbollah’s deep immersion in the war in Syria and its need to display a military presence along the border with Israel, thereby leaving a sort of power vacuum in the Tyre region from which the rocket fire came.
Aside from seeking to exploit Hezbollah’s weakened authority, an attack on Israel could increase the chances of an IDF retaliation against Hezbollah; at this point in time, with Hezbollah fighting alongside Bashar Assad and against the Sunni majority in Syria, few developments would be more warmly welcomed by the Sunni jihadi groups.
Those groups, having put down roots in the heart of the Muslim world in recent years –– and no longer relegated to such far-flung locales as Afghanistan — have been consistently and emphatically encouraged by al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to attack Israel. Entrenched along the Golan Heights and within the Sinai desert, and to a lesser extent in northern and southern Lebanon, the Sunni jihadi groups have a clear interest in shedding Israeli blood and have found comfort in numbers along Israel’s borders.
Furthermore, the alleged large-scale chemical attack outside Damascus on Wednesday and the ensuing international inaction in the wake of that devastating strike, could also spur a Sunni group to fire rockets at Israel — either out of frustration, or as part of a plan to instigate international involvement in the Syria conflict. “They are going crazy,” Kedar said. “Assad is killing them as if they were cockroaches and that can lead people to operate from the gut and not the brain.”
In addition, Israeli involvement in a conflict stirs global reactions and responses in a way that local atrocities do not.
Finally, in the age of active defense, Israel’s intelligence capacities, as Thursday’s rocket fire illustrates, are less opaque. Three weeks ago, an Iron Dome battery was moved to the Eilat region; one week later, for the first time, it intercepted a rocket over the southern resort city. On Wednesday, also for the first time, an Iron Dome battery was rotated to the Sharon region, north of Tel Aviv. The rocket intercepted over the Acre-Nahariya area may have been shot down by the Iron Dome battery further to the north, in Haifa, but clearly in an age of multiple threats, with varying and shifting degrees of urgency, Israel’s intelligence community was not caught by surprise by the fire from Lebanon.