ANALYSIS: What’s Behind the Rising Tensions in Northern Israel

Israel Air Force (IAF) flew over Iran as part of a massive drill as region-wide war seems more likely, Saudi media reported

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Hezbollah, Iran
Israeli reinforcements deploy to the northern border as tensions rise between the Jewish state and Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
Israeli reinforcements deploy to the northern border as tensions rise between the Jewish state and Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Photo: Michael Giladi/Flash90

Tensions between Israel and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah have been rising again in recent weeks after Hezbollah announced that it rejects a possible agreement between Israel and Lebanon on the demarcation of the economic maritime zones between the two countries, and threatened to attack Israeli vessels that are soon expected to drill for gas in the Karish gas field located off the coast of northern Israel.

The escalating tensions with Hezbollah are directly related to the internal situation in Lebanon and Iran’s strategy toward Israel, as well as the state of affairs in the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran over renewal of the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, as we shall see.

Let’s start with the growing tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.

Under the leadership of the American mediator Amos Hochstein, talks have been going on for more than six months to reach an agreement that will definitively define the economic maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

Those talks now appear to have entered a decisive phase, and in Lebanon some government officials are now optimistic about the chances of reaching an agreement.

Hezbollah, however, has refused to agree to any deal with arch-enemy Israel, and has threatened to start a war if the government in Jerusalem implements its intention to start drilling for gas in the Karish gas field by September 1.

This gas field is located in the waters off the coast of northern Israel, and Hezbollah claims it is partially located in the Lebanese economic maritime zone.

However, Israel has shown through satellite photos that Hezbollah’s claims are nonsense, and has now put its military (IDF) in a state of heightened readiness.

Hezbollah’s stance is not only related to the fact that it is part of the Iranian axis that is increasingly active against Israel. More on that later.

 

Internal situation in Lebanon

The internal situation in Lebanon also plays a significant role in Hezbollah’s opposition to an agreement with Israel.

With Lebanon now really on the brink of economic and social collapse, the Shiite terror movement is rapidly losing popularity.

Any solution to the huge economic crisis in Lebanon is being thwarted by Hezbollah because of political considerations.

Aid from, for example, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is flatly rejected by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah because it would weaken the Iranian axis’ hold on Lebanon.

The people of Lebanon, however, are aware of this and are increasingly turning against the unhealthy ties between their country and the regime in Tehran.

To give you an idea of what the World Bank calls “a deliberate economic depression,” inflation in Lebanon has risen to 890 percent, while more than 80 percent of the Lebanese population now lives in poverty.

People are no longer able to purchase basic needs and are also dealing with the total collapse of the health system in Lebanon, where most medicines are no longer available.

The country’s currency, the Lebanese pound, has furthermore lost 90 percent of its value against the euro and the dollar since October 2019, while local banks now restrict cash withdrawals of foreign currency accounts.

Then there is the worst energy crisis in the history of Lebanon, where on an average only one hour of electricity is available, while there is also a huge shortage of fuel so that the generators that companies and hospitals possess are no longer useable.

To make matters worse, there’s currently also a serious shortage of grain, and this is not only due to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The grain silos in the port of Beirut had already been severely damaged by the huge explosion that took place in another silo in the summer of 2018, making storing of grain imports almost impossible.

This summer, however, large fires broke out in the grain silos that proved to be inextinguishable and led to the collapse of most of the warehouses.

 

Rising tensions

For Lebanon, an agreement with Israel on the maritime economic zones would mean significant and badly needed revenues from gas extraction for the devastated economy, but that didn’t cause any change in Hezbollah’s opposition against the deal.

Nasrallah recently moderated his rhetoric a bit after issuing almost daily threats against Israel, but this could also be seen as the calm before the storm.

In any case, tensions in southern Lebanon and northern Israel are mounting and are being exacerbated by the expansion of Hezbollah’s activities along the border with Israel, as we reported earlier.

On the other side of the border, the IDF is not taking any chances and is sending reinforcements to northern Israel.

Last Sunday, a large convoy of IDF military vehicles was spotted near the northernmost Israeli city of Metulla, while unusual activity was observed in the skies over northern Israel last Friday and Saturday.

Nasrallah has denied that Hezbollah’s increasing aggressiveness toward Israel has anything to do with the ongoing nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran.

The link between the two processes may sound illogical but isn’t because the Second Lebanon War that started in July 2006 also began after senior IRGC officials instructed Nasrallah to launch an attack on Israel during a meeting in Damascus days before the war began.

At the time, Iran wanted to divert attention from possible sanctions against its nuclear program and the terrorist activities of the IRGC on the eve of a meeting of the G-7 superpowers, and is now obviously interested in stalling the negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

Iran now still refuses to give additional information to the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding traces of uranium found by the world body’s inspectors at undeclared facilities, and has declared it is waiting for “flexibility” from the US administration in order to finalize a new or revised nuclear deal.

 

Iran’s role and strategy

As we will see, Iran does play a significant role in the now-developing crisis between Hezbollah and Israel.

This was admitted in so many words by Hossein Salami, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Reflecting on the recent two-day war between the wholly-Iran-sponsored terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the IDF, Salami said Iran wants to constantly keep hight pressure on Israel.

The IRGC commander spoke openly about the strategy toward Israel and said Iran is now providing weapons and financial assistance to Palestinian terrorists in Judea and Samaria despite the now-finally sealed security fence and the constant presence of the IDF.

However, according to Salami, the missiles that Iran supplied to the Palestinian terrorist movements in Gaza were increasingly difficult to deliver, so Hezbollah and Iranian experts taught Hamas and PIJ to build their own missiles.

The IRGC commander also spoke openly about the so-called multi-front war Iran wants to open against Israel.

Hezbollah will play an important role, Salami said, speaking of “hundreds of thousands of missiles lined up in front of the Zionist regime.”

The Iranian military leader also spoke of the need for a land invasion against Israel and said that missiles alone are not enough to conquer the country.

“The infantry must (literally) gain a foothold in order to liberate the country step by step,” according to Salami, who also claimed that the Israeli population is not prepared for “a long war because of the prosperity and comfortable life in the Zionist entity.”

The Palestinian terror groups must unite and then they will be able to operate much more effectively against Israel, according to the IRGC.

Salami thinks the time is now right to do this because of the new generation of Palestinian Arabs who grew up with Jihad, while he also made a comparison with the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

According to Salami there should be “human waves of the resistance axis” moving into Israel just like happened during the war against Iraq, when Iran even used children to serve as minesweepers against the many mines that Saddam Hussein’s army had laid in the border area.

The IRGC has become convinced that Israel is vulnerable and that psychological warfare is necessary to bring the country to its knees, Salami said.

 

Campaign against possible new nuclear deal

Israel, meanwhile, Is preparing for a massive aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and has reportedly conducted drills in Iran’s airspace over the past two months.

F-35 of the Israel Air Force (IAF) flew over Iran as part of a massive drill that involved the use of planes that are able to refuel fighter jets midair, Saudi media reported on Wednesday.

Israel is also campaigning again against a new nuclear deal with Iran, after the regime in Tehran has apparently dropped its demand to remove the IRGC from its list of terrorist organizations.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid is vehemently against a new deal, also because it apparently again completely disregards Iran’s aggressive imperialist activities.

Lapid called German Chancellor Olaf Scholz late last week and did the same with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday when Lapid discussed Iran’s nuclear threat with them.

An Israeli government official later confirmed that Lapid had called on the Europeans to walk away from negotiations with Iran, or risk showing weakness before the regime in Tehran.

However, the US continues to try to reach a new or revised agreement with Iran at any cost.

President Joe Biden also called his European partners in the negotiations with Iran, discussing with them, in addition to the state of affairs in Iranian nuclear file, joint efforts to curb Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.

It remains unclear though whether these “joint efforts” could include military action.

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