IDF intel chief: Were it not for Hezbollah, Lebanon would normalize ties with Israel

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva warns terror group’s leader not to underestimate IDF; in rare comments on Russian invasion of Ukraine, says he sides with US

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva speaks at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya on September 13, 2022. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva speaks at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya on September 13, 2022. (Gilad Kavalerchik)

The head of Military Intelligence on Tuesday said that if not for the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group holding Lebanon “hostage,” Beirut would have normalized ties with Jerusalem.

“I look at the Abraham Accords and ask if Lebanon could be there,” Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva said at a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University, referring to a series of diplomatic agreements in 2020 between Israel and several Arab nations.

“And I say to myself, if Hezbollah would not have taken Lebanon hostage — I’m convinced it would have been,” he said.

Haliva warned Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who has ramped up threats and military provocations amid recent tensions between Israel and Lebanon over a maritime dispute.

“I hope for Nasrallah’s sake that he does not underestimate the Israeli response to [potential] actions. I remind Nasrallah that Israel’s power is very great and I’m not sure he wants to test it,” he said.

“Nasrallah knows how to assess Israeli intelligence and Israel’s firepower. Nasrallah is a serious man. He knows what I’m talking about,” Haliva added.

Hezbollah terror leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link, as his supporters raise their hands, during the Shiite holy day of Ashoura, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, August 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The maritime dispute, which involves competing claims over offshore gas fields, escalated in June after Israel moved a production vessel near the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by its northern neighbor.

Hezbollah, which launched four drones toward the Karish gas field in July, has threatened attacks if Israel proceeds with gas extraction in the disputed area. 

On Monday, a senior Israeli official said Israel and Lebanon were close to a deal that would end the dispute, and threatened Hezbollah should it attack the gas field.

Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006. Beirut and Jerusalem have no diplomatic relations and are separated by the UN-patrolled ceasefire line.

On Russian invasion of Ukraine, ‘I side with the US’

In rare public comments from the military on its stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Haliva said Tuesday that he sides with the United States, “our most important strategic partner.”

“I’ve been asked if I’m on the Ukrainian or Russian side. I’m on the side of the US,” Haliva told the conference.

The “relationship with the US is one of Israel’s most important assets,” he added.

On Sunday, the outgoing chief of the military’s Northern Command said the Israel Defense Forces had learned “a lot” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that was “relevant” to a potential war with Hezbollah.

Maj. Gen. Amir Baram speaks at a ceremony at the IDF Northern Command base in Safed on September 11, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We are examining the conflict, and will implement lessons learned for a future war in the north,” Maj. Gen. Amir Baram said during a ceremony marking the entry of the next chief of the IDF’s Northern Command.

Israel has sought to preserve ties with Russia especially due to the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria, where the Israeli Air Force has regularly struck Iranian-linked targets — though relations have appeared to recently cool as Jerusalem has become increasingly outspoken over Ukraine.

Israel has refrained from sending weapons and advanced defensive systems to Ukraine, but an Israeli defense contractor has been supplying anti-drone systems to Ukraine’s military by way of Poland.

Russia, meanwhile, has procured drones from Iran to use in its invasion of Ukraine.

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