1. Missiles or misdirection: There has been a near unanimous analysis that Israel’s tunnel-killing operation is not going to lead to a wider conflagration — so long as Israel remains on its side of the Lebanese border. But at the same time, there have been hints that the operation is merely the appetizer for an actual battle once Israel decides to try to get rid of Hezbollah’s precision missile stocks.
- The clearest indication came on Thursday, when a senior Israeli official threatened that the IDF may be forced to extend its current tunnel-busting operation across the border and into Lebanese territory.
- “High chance of a future operation,” reads a top headline in the Israel Hayom tabloid.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile began to shift the conversation to Hezbollah’s missiles, saying that the terror group has some, but not as many as it wants: “According to Hezbollah’s plans, they were already supposed to be equipped with thousands of missiles, but right now they only have a few dozen.”
- The statement downplaying Hezbollah’s abilities is somewhat strange in that Israel has consistently maintained that the group is a formidable threat, with Israeli analysts and reporters dutifully relaying the most dramatic of both sides’ boasts and warnings for years.
2. Waiting for war: Perhaps what changed is the need for a casus belli, which the tunnels and their excellent PR potential may now provide Israel. As Ben Caspit writes in al-Monitor: “Hezbollah’s precision missile project is still alive and kicking and Israeli efforts to thwart it continue. The direct flights from Tehran to Beirut do not bode well for Israel’s future. …. Israel’s dilemma is whether to consider this project an act of war by Hezbollah.”
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel calls the missiles “the fuse that could ignite the war,” and quotes a military officer who tells him that it was clear the tunnel threat needed to be taken care of before Israel started anything that could lead to a wider confrontation.
- “His response was unexpectedly forceful: Had war broken out and we had left this threat untreated, the Agranat Commission criticisms of the IDF following the Yom Kippur War would have paled in comparison to what would have happened in this case, and rightly so. ‘We could not go on living with this threat for one day. And this is a genuine answer, not covering our ass,’” he writes.
3. Crazy plans Kila: How did they find the factory that was hiding the tunnel opening? According to Harel, IDF analysts noticed that, although the building in Lebanon’s Kafr Kila was supposedly a cement factory, it was only trucking materials out, not in.
- It’s not just the supposed cement factory. Yedioth Ahronoth publishes a map of Kafr Kila pointing out the locations where it says there are underground hiding places for troops, observation posts and more.
- “Inside the village there is a central command, with some 20 weapons stores, battle posts, observation posts, dozens of underground bunkers and an advanced intelligence apparatus based on observation and patrols,” the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua reports.
- Yehoshua doesn’t mention a source, but unless Hezbollah has started leaking its battle plans to him, chances are he’s just repeated what the Israeli military told him.
4. Rookies: Forgetting to make sure the trucks being sent to a supposed cement factory are filled with materials is the kind of rookie mistake one wouldn’t necessarily expect from big, bad Hezbollah.
- There has been a fair amount of gently mocking or downplaying Hezbollah, as being caught with its pants down. The army publishing a video showing an operative finding an Israeli spying device in a tunnel, and then running away scared when it sets off a small explosion, hasn’t helped matters.
- To make things even worse, several Israeli outlets report that the man isn’t some kid being paid a few lira to dig out limestone, but Hezbollah’s tunnel commander Imad Fahs, a mechanical engineer with a PhD.
- Hadashot news speaks to some of Fahs’s friends, who confirm it is Fahs and he has gone underground the last couple years, literally and figuratively, disappearing off social media.
- “The surprise, shock and embarrassment of Hezbollah is not a trifle, it’s so much more,” an IDF officer tells Israel Hayom. “Their ability to keep a big project like this secret and then bust out with all their power, to take a massive asset like that from Hezbollah is no less than impressive.”
5. Pit of doom: Hezbollah isn’t the only one going underground. Yedioth’s Alex Fishman reports on the newly refurbished and reopened super-secure and not-so-secret bunker dozens of meters below the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
- The pit, as the war room (several rooms actually) is known, was a 10-year project, according to Fishman, quoting one officer who calls it the army’s largest-ever non-war engineering effort. And the room is reserved for use when Israel thinks war is a possibility, meaning the decision to time it with the announcement of the tunnel-busting op was likely not coincidental.
- “This was more proof that, from the army’s point of view, there was no question as to whether the uncovering and sealing of the Hezbollah tunnels was a military operation in every sense of the phrase,” he writes.
6. A win for Hamas: The UN failing to pass a measure condemning the Hamas terror group, meanwhile, is being seen as a large blow to the US and Israel.
- “The vote on the resolution [was] a test for the Trump administration’s ability to get support for its Middle East policies in the Arab world,” Haaretz notes.
- Israel tried to spin the vote as a victory nonetheless, noting that more countries voted for the measure than against it, though it lacked the two-thirds majority necessary.
- But to the US, the loss still stings, with Jason Greenblatt calling it “absolutely shameful.”
Absolutely shameful!! @UN failed to condemn #Hamas even after years of attacks via suicide bombings, kidnappings, missiles, & more against Israelis. The applause after the vote says it all. #Hamas hurts #Israelis, #Palestinians & #peace. When will the #UN speak the truth???
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) December 6, 2018
- It was also seemingly the last major move by Ambassador Nikki Haley before she moves on.
- “She would like to go out with something,” a diplomat tells AFP.
7. Heather’s next: The vote had barely finished when reports began to emerge that US President Donald Trump has finally picked a new UN envoy, Heather Nauert, who may have even less diplomatic experience than Haley did.
- The Fox anchor-cum-State Department spokesperson has never held a diplomatic post, so it’s pretty hard for the “Is she good for Israel/the Jews?” crowd to predict how she may turn out (though most everyone agrees it will be pretty hard to top Haley, who at times seemed like she was doing Israeli envoy Danny Danon’s job for him.)
- The New York Times reaches deep into the vault to report that “in 2015, she hosted an event for Algemeiner, a Jewish news outlet, at which Mr. Trump was given an award for his support of Israel.”
- But the paper also notes that the choice of Nauert suggests Trump “wants someone at the United Nations who will not necessarily play a major role in setting policy but will instead take on a high-profile role in selling it to the world.”
8. Cosmic sign? According to an Associated Press article from March, when Nauert was promoted to her current position as State’s flack, thanks to the firing of Rex Tillerson, who had sidelined her, she was deep underground on a tour of a Hamas tunnel outside of Gaza.
- This time, the US was fresh from being unable to sell those tunnels as a reason for the world to condemn Hamas, and Israel was taking other diplomats on a tour of a Hezbollah tunnel on the northern border for the same reason.