- Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah seems confident that Israel is living on borrowed time because of its domestic weakness and political schisms. He has never shaken his belief, stated in May 2000, that Israel “is more fragile than a spiderweb.”1
- On May 21, 2023, Hizbullah conducted live-fire military exercises along Israel’s border.
- On May 22, 2023, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Directorate, warned, “The use of force in the north, from both Lebanon and Syria, could lead to escalation and clashes on a very significant scale with Hizbullah and Lebanon.”
- On May 23, 2023, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, warned, “Iran has made more progress in enriching uranium than ever before….There are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action….We have the ability to hit Iran. We are not indifferent to what Iran is trying to build around us.”
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya on May 22, 2023, Major-General Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, warned that the conflict between Israel and Iran was becoming increasingly direct. “The chances of an escalation that could deteriorate into war is not low,” he warned. As far as Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is concerned, an outbreak on the Israel-Lebanon border is likely. In an unusually frank remark, the IDF Intelligence chief assessed that Nasrallah was “close to making a mistake that could plunge the region into a big war….The use of force in the north, from Lebanon and Syria, could lead to escalation and clashes on a significant scale between Hizbullah and Lebanon.”2
A roadside bombing attack in northern Israel in March 2023 seriously injured a man, and Hizbullah was suspected of orchestrating the attack. But, Haliva stressed, “The story of the terrorist at the Megiddo Junction is not a one-off.”3
Haliva added a warning: “All this creates a high potential for an escalation in the region, and we need to be prepared that our enemies won’t understand the message we’re sending. Let them not be mistaken; we’re ready to use force and will do whatever is possible and necessary to bring calm.”4
Haliva’s remarks at the Herzliya conference were not accidental or unintentional. On the contrary, Haliva wanted Nasrallah to listen carefully to his warning. Israel has been following Nasrallah’s hardline and fierce rhetoric, which has grown to new levels of provocation and audacity in the last year.
Speaking on April 13, 2023, at a ceremony marking “Quds (Jerusalem) Day,” Nasrallah pledged to respond against any Israeli attack in Lebanon following the latest significant cross-border escalation. Nasrallah said: “This year, there were many significant developments and events at the global level, the regional level, the Palestinian level, and within Israel. All these developments, in my opinion, serve in a way to affirm our long struggle along the axis of resistance with Israel, the Zionist occupation, and American hegemony.”5
Mocking Israel, Nasrallah said that the Israelis chose to hit “banana groves” and a water irrigation channel instead of any meaningful target in retaliation in the latest exchange of fire. He suggested that Israel feared a military flare-up with Iran’s allies: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, and Iran’s proxy militias in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In his analysis of the social tensions in Israel and protests led by IDF reservists, Nasrallah seems to have concluded that Israel is close to implosion. This situation allows him to impose new rules of engagement on Israel in the region.
Nasrallah said that recent events in Israel indicated Israel was nearing its end. Nasrallah said it was the threat of Hizbullah’s military might backing up the Lebanese army that enabled the latter to stand up to the IDF on the border, and claimed that in recent weeks Israel has been trying to move the border by seizing meters of Lebanese territory, but has been repelled.6
Nasrallah was echoing sentiments broadcast in Iran. On May 13, 2023, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Hossein Salami, eulogized a soldier killed in a missile mishap. “His tombstone says, ‘Here is interned a man who wanted to destroy Israel,’ and today, witnessing the decline of our enemies, especially the Zionist usurpers and child-killers, his dream will soon come true.”7
The Lethal Spider
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has never shaken his belief, as stated in 2000, that “This Israel, which has nuclear weapons and the strongest air force in the region, is more fragile than a spiderweb.” The “spiderweb,” however, over the years has intercepted and destroyed numerous of Iranian arms shipments destined to Hizbullah and Hamas, shipped overland via Syria and Sudan or by sea on ships named Karine A, Francop, and Victoria.
The Iranian-Hizbullah-Palestinian axis was evident in the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian to the Lebanese-Israeli border in April 2023.
Nasrallah’s arrogance and boasting were seen in 2022 when Hizbullah put the issue of delineating the maritime border with Israel high on its agenda. Hizbullah warned that if Israel would not agree to surrender to Lebanon “usurped” gas fields, then Hizbullah would not hesitate to confront Israel militarily, threatening to strike Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean. Hizbullah concluded that three drones it directed toward Israel’s Karish gas field on July 2, 2022, convinced Israel to compromise and surrender maritime rights to Lebanon. The domestic debate inside Israel, with the parliamentary opposition accusing the government of yielding under Hizbullah pressure, only reinforced Nasrallah’s assessment that Israel had agreed to compromise out of weakness.9
This assessment relating to the Israeli lack of resolve crystallized since the election of a new government in Jerusalem and the protests against the judicial overhaul. The schism inside Israeli society, together with the positions expressed by some Israeli reservists that they would not respond to a call to IDF training due to the judicial overhaul debate, was perceived by Israel’s enemies as the beginning of the end of the Zionist state: an implosion that would hasten the end of the Israeli adventure.
The United States’ Role
Moreover, U.S.-Israel tensions and the unexpected Saudi-Iranian-Bahraini-Emirati reconciliation convinced Nasrallah that the Arab Sunni-Israeli axis against Iran that Israel sought to establish with the participation of the United States was stillborn. On the contrary, it signified more than any other development Israel’s renewed isolation in the Middle East and the end of the Israeli option to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure.
Nasrallah seems convinced he has the upper hand in his fight against Israel. He has presented himself as the patron of the Palestinian cause and has openly warned Israel not to cross his “red lines.” The Hizbullah chief enumerated these points:10
Any attack on Lebanese soil would meet an appropriate response (be it a Hizbullah target or Palestinian or Lebanese).
Israel’s freedom of maneuver in Syria will soon end and close what Israel calls “the war between the wars.”
Nasrallah called to send funds and weapons to the Palestinian factions inside Israel.
Attacks or provocations (by Jewish extremists) on Muslim or Christian holy places would be challenged by Hizbullah.
Nasrallah is confident that Israel is living on borrowed time because of its domestic weakness and political schisms. He believes, as do Iranian leaders, that Israel will be faced very soon with annihilation. For him, Hizbullah and Israel have established a balance of deterrence. The situational entrapment in which he found himself deterred from action after the Second Lebanon War no longer exists. Contemptuously, he declared, “The Israelis themselves acknowledge that the balance of deterrence is what made their response to what happened in the south limited and silly.”
Displaying his most recent arrogance, Nasrallah ordered war exercises on May 21, 2023, adjacent to Israel’s border.
What were IDF General Haliva’s intentions in formulating his warning to Nasrallah, and how serious was his notice about a possible generalized military confrontation? Haliva was probably referring to Nasrallah’s past comments that Hizbullah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the border in 2006, which set off the Second Lebanon War, was a mistake. Had he known that a full war would result, he would not have given the orders, but he said he is now starting to believe the balance of power can be tested.
In deep contrast and opposition to Nasrallah’s rhetoric, the IDF chief military intelligence officer was warning Nasrallah that he was wrong in his analysis of the domestic situation in Israel and the conclusion that it is a precursor to the waning of “the Zionist entity.” Implying that Nasrallah had several times in the past tested Israel’s resolve by initiating various intrusion operations into Israeli territory, Haliva was saying that another Hizbullah challenge, if carried out by Hizballah or a proxy, would be one operation too many. Israel would respond at the risk of a military conflict with the Iran-led alliance in the region. As Haliva put it, there would be no more uncertainty or ambiguous situations: Israel is directly confronting Iran. In fact, in an allegory depicting the case, it would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Nasrallah’s vision of Israel is not the first time an Arab leader has misconstrued Israeli reality. Many Arab leaders before Nasrallah had the same dream, and their failure to read and analyze the Israeli polity and society proved to be their end. Haliva is giving Nasrallah “free advice” and recommends listening to it carefully.
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