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Analysis

Hezbollah’s drones carried a message to Israeli gas rig, not weapons

Terror group is seeing political instability in Jerusalem and trying to set a precedent, while scoring valuable publicity points at home

Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The three drones operated by the Hezbollah terror group that Israel shot down Saturday as they headed for the Karish natural gas field were not carrying weapons, but rather a message — that the Iran-backed proxy has its finger on the pulse of political instability in Jerusalem.

The Israel Defense Forces shot down all three aircraft before they reached their target off the Mediterranean coast and Hezbollah later admitted it sent them to conduct “surveillance.” By the time their wrecks splashed into the sea, the terror group had already achieved its goal.

Hezbollah has recently upped its use of drone photography in propaganda against Israel. This includes almost-daily images of the work Israel is conducting along its northern border with Lebanon. Three months ago a drone penetrated Israeli air space, reaching as far as Tiberias before it was stopped.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nassrallah sees the use of such drones as a kind of strategic counterbalance to Israel’s regional air superiority. The Israeli Air Force operates freely in Lebanese airspace and, according to foreign media reports, even launches attacks from there against targets in Syria, an action it justifies in part as necessary to prevent the shipment of weapons to Hezbollah.

Though Hezbollah possesses advanced anti-aircraft systems, it refrains from targeting the Israeli jets.

Flying drones into Israeli airspace is, for Hezbollah, seen as a legitimate response.

A drone launched by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, shortly after being intercepted by an Israeli fighter jet over the Mediterranean Sea, July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Karish gas field is located in an area that is the subject of an ongoing dispute between Israel and Lebanon; both want to develop the lucrative natural gas reserves it holds. The dispute has been a key element of US-brokered negotiations between the two countries over their maritime border.

Hezbollah initially took a pragmatic approach to the talks, surprising Israel. The terror group said it would defend any boundary laid down in the negotiations, effectively leaving the matter to the Lebanese government. And it was Lebanese army officials who attended the talks, not military representatives of the more powerfully armed Hezbollah.

But after an initial round of talks headed downhill, Hezbollah backed away from that stance.

Recent Lebanese elections saw the terror group and its allies lose their parliamentary majority while facing heavy criticism inside the country. It has responded by aligning itself with the more hawkish attitude of military figures.

The Karish gas field — which took center stage last month after Israel moved a drilling ship there, prompting vocal protests from Lebanon — presents a convenient opportunity for the terror group to position itself as Lebanon’s guardian.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid gives a first televised address to the nation, July 2, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Hezbollah is also reading the situation in Israel as the country heads to its fifth election in less than four years, with caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid installed just last week.

It chose this moment to send a message and set a precedent. A similar strategy could be seen coming from the Gaza Strip, when the Hamas terror group last week released a video clip of one of the Israeli civilians it holds captive, along with a claim that his health is deteriorating.

Perhaps more than anything, the drone attack, coming just hours before Lapid made his first public declaration as prime minister Saturday night, was aimed at scoring valuable publicity points back home, in Lebanon.

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