A regional war pitting Israel against Iran has never appeared more likely.
Over the past month, Israel made a great show of uncovering and neutralizing terrorist attack tunnels running from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
But the leader of the Iranian-allied Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which presumably dug the tunnels, boasted on Saturday that Israel’s much-touted “Operation Northern Shield” that was declared finished and successful last week did not eliminate even 10 percent of the terror group’s ability to invade the Galilee.
And Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah admitted that invading the Galilee is precisely what Hezbollah intends to do in the next Israel-Lebanon war.
“Part of our plan for the next war is to enter the Galilee… The important thing is that we have this capability and we have had it for years,” Nasrallah told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV over the weekend.
He explained that the handful of invasion tunnels Israel had neutralized were old, and that there remain more.
“The Israelis discovered a number of tunnels after many years, and it’s not a surprise. The surprise is that these tunnels, they took some time to find,” said Nasrallah. “One of the tunnels discovered in recent weeks is 13 or 14 years old. …The uncovering of the tunnels does not affect by 10 percent our plans to take over the Galilee.”
Nasrallah added that Hezbollah has no intention of initiating a war, and will only respond to Israeli aggression. However, he also suggested that such a response could be the result of continuing Israeli airstrikes on Hezbollah’s Iranian benefactors in neighboring Syria.
Expelling Iran from Syria
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made abundantly clear of late that Israel will continue to hamper Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
But, Nasrallah noted that it had already failed to do so, that Iran is already established in the war-torn country. Some Israeli commentators have suggested the same, that Israeli airstrikes might prevent Iran from importing or setting up more advanced weapons, but that the Islamic Republic’s military presence in Syria can not now be reversed.
Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday insisted that they were wrong.
Speaking at a campaign rally near Jerusalem, Gallant, who recently joined Netanyahu’s Likud party ahead of the upcoming national election, said that Israel has a plan to fully expel Iranian forces from Syria.
More than that, Gallant, who is a former top IDF general, claimed that the Russians support Israel in this endeavor. “Israel and Russia have a shared interest to expel the Iranians from Syria,” he said.
Russia and Iran have traditionally been allied, but reports in recent years have suggested that Moscow is displeased by the Islamic Republic’s meddling in Syria. That would explain why the Russians have largely turned a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets there.
Indeed, just last week Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denied that his country was allied with Iran in Syria. “The Iranians were very helpful when we convened the National Congress of the people of Syria in Sochi, but we do not see at any given moment completely eye-to-eye on what happens,” said Ryabov, adding that Moscow views Israel’s security as a “top priority.”