The intensification of Hassan Nasrallah’s recent threats to respond with force against the United States and Israel, as in his latest Quds Day statement on May 31, 2019, reflects a genuine fear among Hizbullah. Hizbullah saw as imminent threat messages conveyed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield to the Lebanese leadership. According to a credible report in Al Hayat on June 2, 2019, President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri were warned by the United States that it would not ignore the intelligence information, pictures, and maps of Hizbullah’s precision-missile sites. The United States will not be able to restrain Israel from acting against them.
Nasrallah responded belligerently. He denied that there are precision-missile factories in Lebanon, but he asserted that building such facilities is a decision for Hizbullah to make. In the same breath, Nasrallah again threatened to use long-range precision missiles that can hit strategic targets in Israel. This is not the first time Nasrallah has denied existing facts; he has done so in the past in different circumstances. For Nasrallah, the truth is not the sole option.
A commentary posted on Hizbullah’s official site Al Ahed proclaimed that Israel cannot ignore Nasrallah’s messages, including his words about the precision missiles in Hizbullah’s hands and about the United States’ “failure” to foment a domestic debate on the subject in Lebanon and to portray the missiles as the main factor behind Lebanon’s instability. The post said that, instead of adopting a policy of ambiguity on the missile issue, Nasrallah had unequivocally affirmed the right to maintain any capabilities to confront the Israeli threat, including long-range precision missiles that can hit any target in Israel.
The commentary also made clear that Hizbullah rejects the attempt to use the talks with the United States on demarcating Lebanon’s land and maritime borders with Israel to convey threats on the missile issue. It said that whether or not there are precision-missile factories in Lebanon is not the United States’ business and that Hizbullah has the right to manufacture whatever weaponry it wants.
It is our right to have weapons to defend our countries, and it is our right to manufacture any weapons.1
“If the Americans want to keep this file open, we have the full capacity to manufacture and to get manufacturing machines, and we will set up factories to manufacture precision rockets in Lebanon,” Nasrallah said.
The Hizbullah commentary also asserted:
Hizbullah’s equation has left Tel Aviv with two scenarios: 1. adapting to the presence of precision rockets and be rational and silent to avoid a worse outcome, or 2. bear the effects of the most dangerous scenario which is the construction of factories for precision missiles, which will raise the challenge and limit their options.
By sticking to the first option, they would avoid the scenario involving the construction of precision missile factories, giving in to the equation of the precision rockets in Lebanon. The fighters will not be fighting.
But if they try to outsmart the resistance and keep up the pressure, they will face a gradual response from Hizbullah, involving the construction of factories. This will deprive them of good night sleep. More seriously, they realize the magnitude of the constraints binding them from initiating any military endeavor, which they know will be very costly for them.
Hizbullah has decided that, in case of a military escalation between the United States and Iran, it will act against Israel. Hizbullah’s response could fall along a spectrum of possibilities, from activating the Shiite militias in Syria against Israeli targets on the Golan Heights to activating Hizbullah cells against Israel on the Golan border, while, if there is an American attack in Iran itself, Hizbullah will respond with missile fire at Israel.
Iran Cannot Transport Weapons, So It Builds Them in Lebanon
Iran and Hizbullah have taken a strategic decision to build infrastructure in Lebanon for upgrading precision missiles. At the basis of this decision stands Israel’s determination to attack whatever construction of such an infrastructure occurs at different sites in Syria, and to attack whatever components are discovered making the move from Syria to Lebanon. Apparently, Hizbullah assumes that Israel will not operate freely against such facilities in Lebanon given a balance of deterrence that leads it to avoid being drawn into a war that would include Hizbullah missile fire at Israel.
It is worth emphasizing that there are no economic or financial constraints on this strategic decision stemming from the economic sanctions against Iran and Hizbullah. Numerous reports have appeared on Iran’s and Hizbullah’s economic plight, including a drastic reduction in Iranian aid to Hizbullah and substantial cuts that affect its military and social activity. Regarding Hizbullah, however, these reports appear to be greatly exaggerated. Tony Badran, the highly regarded and experienced analyst, rightly points out the impact of the economic situation on Hizbullah:
Hizbullah is not bankrupt. But have Iranian funds to the group been affected by sanctions on Tehran? The answer is most likely yes, but it misses the key point. The more critical question is: Has Hizbullah’s ability to continue to run its operations, both military and nonmilitary, been substantially curtailed at this point in the maximum pressure campaign? There is no convincing evidence to suggest that anything like that is happening.2
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