Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's rattles sabers against Israel
By Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
Since the beginning of July 2023, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has escalated his verbal clash with Israel with fierce rhetoric, belittling the Jewish State and arguing that Israel has lost its past deterrence because of its domestic weakness. Nasrallah, who is known to be a compulsive reader of the Israeli press and the international press coverage relating to Israel, seems to have concluded that Israel has lost power, is weakened from within, and lacks the resolve to wage war against Hizbullah or any other adversary.
Few doubt that Nasrallah's bellicose policies match the strategies of his Iranian patrons and are carried out with Iran's approval.
To illustrate his aggression, Nasrallah challenged Israel when his operatives erected tents after crossing the "Blue Line," the designated boundary that since 2000 demarcates the UN-recognized line of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. He openly threw down his gauntlet, pointing out that he was prepared to act militarily if Israel tried dismantling the tents. Nasrallah bluntly declared that the tents were established on Lebanese land, and Hizbullah did not intend to dismantle the tents and withdraw.
The Hizbullah leader also claimed there is no basis for negotiating the land border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel. He demanded that Israel comply with his "proposal" of withdrawing to the 1923 Pallet-Newcombe lines, an agreement according to which there is already an internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Mandatory Palestine, thus returning 13 points of contention to Lebanese sovereignty, a proposal no Israeli government can even consider.
Nasrallah promised to deal also with the unilateral "annexation" of the northern part of the border village of Ghajar, with its Syrian Alawite residents, if Israel did not withdraw from this "Lebanese" land, hinting that he would not hesitate to use force against Israel. Indeed, a few days later, an anti-tank missile was fired by a Hizbullah squad in the direction of the village, missing only by chance Israeli soldiers who were patrolling the area. On August 13, 2023, a Hizbullah operative threw a bomb at the fence between Lebanon and Israel.
Nasrallah warned Israel several times not to miscalculate Hizbullah's resolve to confront Israel militarily and argued that the reverse is true for those in Israel who claim that Hizbullah has been deterred since the end of the Second Lebanon War.
A possible signal of the coming events could be seen with the unprecedented intensification of Hizbullah operatives' many provocations on the border with Israel and even deep inside Israeli territory. Hizbullah's continuous military presence in South Lebanon contradicts UNSCR 1701; it prevents UNIFIL personnel from carrying independent inspections; operatives harass the inhabitants of the Israeli border villages and the guards on the observation posts with laser beams and loudspeakers.
Hizbullah is blamed for a road-side bomb attack at the Megiddo Junction, rocket firings against Israel, anti-tank missiles fired in the Ghajar area, dismantling cameras installed by Israel on an observation tower meant to cover the Lebanese territory, incursions deep beyond the Blue Line, unprecedented road construction along the Israeli border fence, moving concrete blocks posed by Israel to demarcate the border, and adventuring in areas beyond the Blue Line where no Lebanese have crossed since the end of the second Lebanon war in 2006. The Iranian proxy continues monitoring Israeli territory from 27 towers constructed by Hizbullah in the past year along the Blue Line under the guise of "Green without Borders," a Hizbullah-affiliated organization that poses as an environmental NGO. Hizbullah recently conducted a military exercise in which Hizbullah elite troops practiced blowing up a border wall and invading Israeli territory.
There are no doubts that the list above, as impressive as it might be, does not cover all the infractions carried by Hizbullah. It stems from the understanding – in Nasrallah's own words – that if Israel were today what it used to be in the past, with its formidable invincible army that could do whatever it wanted, and if Lebanon were today what it was years ago, then Israel would not have hesitated a moment to remove the tents swiftly. This is not the case today. In the eyes of Hizbullah, Israel has lost its credibility and, more importantly, its deterrence vis-a-vis its rivals – not only against Hizbullah but also the Palestinian armed factions combating Israel in Judea and Samaria.
The question is what stands behind Hizbullah's provocations against Israel at this point? Is Nasrallah rushing into a military confrontation with Israel, and to what extent does he assess that Israel will refrain from acting against the Iran-guided militia?
Screenshot of a Hizbullah military exercise in southern Lebanon on May 21, 2023 (RT Arabic)
One possible answer is the clue provided by one of Nasrallah's close followers and confident, Sheikh Sadeq el-Nabulsi, who gave an interview on Al-Hadath TV on July 6, 2023. He said that if the political factions in Lebanon could not agree on a presidential candidate and a stalemate continued, then the option of waging war would change the equation of forces in Lebanon and allow the presentation of a Hizbullah candidate, an opportunity unreachable to this point in Lebanon. According to that same Sheikh, Hizbullah has reached the moment to begin a military confrontation without waiting for Israel to act first.
One cannot ignore this logic: it stands on its own two feet in the Lebanese context. However, Hizbullah is not an independent movement. Its leaders are in tune with the Supreme Leader in Tehran and in coordination with the IRGC and the Quds force. No doubt Tehran is aware of Hizbullah's activities facing Israel and has given the green light for all provocations. Most probably, Tehran's directives to Hizbullah will depend on its perception of other developments in the area, first and foremost in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
Nasrallah's fierce rhetoric has brought the two sides closer to a military confrontation, possibly soon. Nasrallah is convinced he can challenge Israel and cross the red lines he imagined impassible in the past.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.