Hezbollah’s provocations on Israel’s border
Aug 2, 2023 | Ron Ben-Yishai
The recent series of provocations along the Lebanon border by Hezbollah do not solely stem from the loss of deterrence resulting from the political and social turmoil in Israel. Hezbollah as an organisation and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, tend to interpret Israel’s recent behaviour as weakness, and therefore they have recently escalated their provocations, apparently aiming to exacerbate the Israeli public’s lack of trust in the incumbent Government. All of this is, of course, encouraged and coordinated with the Iranians.
However, the establishment of Hezbollah’s “outpost” within Israeli territory several months ago, as well as other provocations initiated by Hezbollah along the Lebanon border, also likely serve some military purposes.
According to Israeli assessments, Nasrallah, driven by internal Lebanese considerations, sees an opportunity amidst the political deadlock and the ongoing economic crisis in that country. He aims to improve his position within the Lebanese arena by engaging in a few days of confrontation with the Israeli army (IDF).
Israel, on the other hand, has different considerations and has no interest in helping grant Nasrallah his desire for a brief military clash. However, a senior defence official told Yediot that “his time will come, and not in the distant future.”
In addition, Nasrallah’s goal is to undermine and disrupt Israel’s ongoing project to build a much-enhanced barrier along the Lebanon border that would prevent or at least hinder and slow down the infiltration of Hezbollah’s special forces into Israeli territory during a future major confrontation.
On multiple occasions, Hezbollah and Nasrallah have already publicly declared their intention to send units of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force into Israeli territory with the aim of seizing villages along the border, IDF positions and major intersections on Israel’s northern highway.
Hezbollah plans to occupy some of these villages to capture prisoners of war – civilians and soldiers – and to hold them as leverage to achieve a psychological victory. The Radwan Force, numbering around 8,000 personnel, will additionally attempt to seize intersections and IDF positions to prevent reinforcements from reaching the villages, and also inflict losses on IDF soldiers.
Nasrallah has explicitly stated this plan, and disseminated a map showing how he intends to infiltrate Israeli territory through six cross-border axes of attack – from Metula in the east to Rosh Hanikra along the coast
Radwan Force fighters recently positioned themselves near the border under the guise of “forest rangers”, without concealing the fact that some of these “forest rangers” were armed. The Radwan Force also conducted a large-scale exercise in May to simulate this attack plan.
Israel’s border barrier and Nasrallah’s concerns
What Nasrallah does not disclose, and Hezbollah does not admit, is that the Israeli military’s border barrier engineering project greatly worries them.
This project, which combines high steel fencing, wall segments and advanced warning and surveillance systems, has the potential to foil Hezbollah’s attack plans entirely. It includes very tall artificial obstacles that Hezbollah would have to climb over, wasting precious time if it intends to charge Israeli villages or positions. During this time, the IDF can prepare defences and initiate counteroffensives.
The border barrier engineering project is nearing completion, and it is evident that this greatly concerns the Hezbollah leadership. Its attack plans into Israeli territory already suffered a significant blow with the IDF’s Operation Northern Shield in 2018-19, which exposed the six cross-border tunnels Hezbollah had secretly dug with the aim of infiltrating Israeli territory.
The border barrier engineering project will substantially impede not only underground attacks but also surface attacks by the Radwan Force, which had planned on utilising the complex terrain and deep valleys of the northern border region to covertly reach its targets inside Israeli territory.
Therefore, Nasrallah is attempting to undermine and disrupt the completion of the enhanced border fence through provocations that mainly involve damaging the steel fence – alongside diplomatic coercion.
The establishment of Hezbollah military posts within Israeli territory in the Har Dov region has been revealed as an attempt to pressure Israel into altering the course of the fence in the area of the village of Ghajar, which lies astride the border line, with parts of it in Israeli territory and others in territory that was Syrian before the capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.
Nasrallah claims that half of the village is located in Lebanese territory and he is seeking to prevent the construction of the barrier fence on the outskirts of the village, which extend into Lebanese territory, claiming that the actual construction takes place within Lebanese territory.
Posts in exchange for barrier?
What are Hezbollah’s true intentions in Ghajar? At least twice, Hezbollah has attempted to send its forces into Israeli territory through Ghajar. The previous attempts were foiled, but Ghajar and the Israeli villages adjacent to the barrier remain vulnerable points that Hezbollah intends to target with its Radwan Force.
Nasrallah recently exposed his intentions through American mediator Amos Hochstein with a “compromise plan” in which Israel would shift the course of the barrier in the Ghajar area, and in return, Hezbollah would dismantle the “tent encampment” it constructed at Har Dov.
This offer is essentially blackmail, as Nasrallah recognises Israel’s concern about another confrontation with Hezbollah, dating back to several years ago, when the Israeli army did not harm his men when they attempted to infiltrate an IDF outpost on Har Dov.
To counter Hezbollah’s provocations, it was recently revealed the IDF has integrated non-lethal means, similar to stun grenades, into the border barrier for the first time.
Anyone who seeks to sabotage the barrier, as Hezbollah operatives frequently do, will suffer injuries, but will not be killed. That is precisely what happened on the afternoon on July 12, when Hezbollah operatives staged a demonstration in the Zar’it area, disguised as innocent civilians protesting against the construction works on the barrier – all of which is taking place within Israeli territory.
It should be noted in this context that so-called “innocent civilian protests” are a longstanding tactic employed by Hezbollah. They were previously used to undermine the security buffer zone established by the IDF and South Lebanon Army in southern Lebanon in 2000.
Hezbollah continues to employ civilian protests and rioting to this day as part of its military tactics.
Until recently, the IDF has refrained from using force against these provocations, primarily due to the mutual deterrence situation that has existed between Israel and Lebanon over recent years. According to this deterrence equation, as formulated by Nasrallah, any Lebanese casualty would be answered by several days of fighting where Hezbollah exacts a price from Israel through missile and rocket fire toward northern communities and anti-tank missiles toward IDF forces along the northern border.
The State of Israel and the IDF have tacitly accepted Nasrallah’s rules of the game, and the recent provocations are also part of this phenomenon. However, this time they serve a military purpose, and the IDF will almost certainly not allow Hezbollah to benefit from Israeli restraint for much longer.