Until we meet again, on the northern border

As echoes of Sunday’s saber-rattling between Israel and Hezbollah fade, everyone can breathe easy – but not for long

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Smoke rises from a fire caused from a rocket fired from Lebanon near Moshav Avivim on the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, September 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Smoke rises from a fire caused from a rocket fired from Lebanon near Moshav Avivim on the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, September 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The familiar pattern of the security escalation in Israel’s northern sector has run its course and all the parties involved can walk away satisfied.

Hezbollah had vowed to exact revenge on Israel over the IDF’s operation in the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut last week, as well as for the killing of two operatives south of Damascus, who were planning a drone attack against Israel, and on Sunday the Shiite terrorist group fired missiles at an IDF patrol and post.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had promised the type of retaliation that would see his organization “vindicated,” and he delivered.

Hezbollah is likely to spend the next few days touting its “heroic operation” on every possible platform, and it will undoubtedly claim that Israeli soldiers were hurt in the attack. “The promise has been kept,” to use Nasrallah’s go-to phrase since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Israeli soldiers stand near artillery units deployed near the Lebanese border outside the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on September 1, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

A short while after the missile fire, Hezbollah announced that as far as the organization was concerned the incident had concluded and that “the ball is now in Israel’s court.”

Israel can also be satisfied with the result. No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the incident, which only recorded damage to equipment, so at the end of the day, the complex operations that took place almost simultaneously in Akraba, south of Damascus, and in Beirut’s Dahiya – the details of which remain largely classified at this time – did not provoke an overly forceful response from Hezbollah.

The specific target Israel sought to destroy, according to some publications, was neutralized, and even Nasrallah, for all his belligerent rhetoric and threats, proved he was in no rush to plunge Lebanon into another war.

And so, after about an hour of Israeli artillery fire at unclear targets, which caused no casualties on the Lebanese side of the border, the IDF, too, announced the incident had concluded.

One cannot ignore the political dimensions of recent events.

Smoke rises from a fire caused from a rocket fired from Lebanon near Moshav Avivim on the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, September 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri rushed to tell his buddies in Lebanon how he approached several European countries with an appeal to help stop the “Israeli escalation.” Al-Hariri continues to try to appear as the sane voice in Lebanon and as the one whose government is trying to run a normal state.

Nasrallah, who gained considerable political points over the incident from his Shiite supporters, is doing the same.

And then there is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the time out of his busy schedule (currently devoted to maligning the media, the Keshet media franchise, and Channel 12 crime reporter Guy Peleg) to address one of the key issues pertaining to the State of Israel – its security.

It is hard to believe that our prime minister, who enjoys the image of “Mr. Security” and who manages the security escalation in the northern sector quite successfully, would even have to bother dealing with any Channel 12 reporter or with the excellent HBO production “Our Boys,” and paint them as the enemies of the state.

Smoke rises near the community of Avivim following an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon on September 1, 2019. (Courtesy)

Now that everyone’s happy, the harder question has to be asked: what’s next?

It is clear that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons will not cease their efforts to produce a wide range of precision-guided rockets and missiles. The organization and its bosses in Tehran are sparing no effort to complete this project, one way or another.

One can also assume that going forward, Hezbollah will try to maintain an even higher level of compartmentalization within its ranks with regard to the precision missiles project, making a clandestine and sophisticated military operation like the one carried out last week much harder to execute.

This means that Israel may have to mount a higher-profile strike, meaning a non-surgical aerial strike, something that comes with a clear price.

The bottom line is that while both sides have announced the current skirmish has played itself out and things can get back to their so-called “normal,” tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border are far from fading.

As it turns out, the Iranians will not relent on their objective and Israel will not cease its attempts to stop them, meaning the events of Sunday afternoon are just another stop on the long, excruciating road that is Israel-Hezbollah relations.

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