The conflict between Israel and Lebanon is escalating. On Sunday, the Daily Telegraph reported that Israel said it was returning fire after anti-tank missiles were launched at its borders from Lebanon, raising anxieties about a potential conflict with the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia movement called Hezbollah. Its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Saturday that his group had already decided to respond to an alleged Israeli drone attack that took place on the group’s media centre on August 25th.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed several hours after Hezbollah militants fired anti-tank missiles at an Israeli base that Israel’s military staged a helicopter evacuation of ‘wounded’ troops covered in bandages and sprayed with fake blood. The Daily Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez argues that neither side wants a war, but they are more than willing to respond to each other’s provocations. Yet there seems to be no end in sight to these retaliatory attacks and the West is going to have to intervene, which is what happened in 2006 when the UN drafted a resolution ending the Lebanese War that year.
The problem is that Hezbollah is likely to continue its terrorist activities as long as it has support from Iran. President Trump has always argued the Iran Deal was a ‘bad deal’ because it failed to end Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups. Because he is a staunch supporter of Israel since he took office and relocated the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, he has a personal interest in ensuring Tehran stops funding Hezbollah to protect one of his staunchest allies.
It is understandable why Netanyahu feels vulnerable; relations between Tehran and Jerusalem are fragile. The Daily Express reports that the Israeli premier believes most terrorism stems from Iran, and warned that those who intend to destroy Israel risk destroying themselves. He has also warned that the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is building a new empire in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon. Shin Bet, the name for the Israeli Security Agency, deals with 500 terrorist attacks a year, which is the equivalent of two a day. If Iran is influencing Hezbollah’s activities, it is understandable why Trump scrapped the 2015 Iran Deal and intends to replace it with an agreement that curbs Tehran’s influence over terrorist organisations in general.
Equally, the Iranians feel threatened. Both Jerusalem and Washington are hostile towards them, and this has been worsened since the 2015 deal was scrapped. With the US imposing crippling oil sanctions on their country, there is no incentive for them to return to the negotiating table and reach a new agreement with Trump. However, they are also intensifying the crisis by seizing oil tankers and provoking the President. Earlier this year, he refrained from ordering a military strike against the Islamic Republic in case it led to war. Although Khamenei believes there is no reason for him to reach a new deal with the US, with neither side interested in conflict, there is plenty of motivation for them to prevent that outcome.
Israeli-Lebanese tensions are an opportunity to push Trump into urging his allies to support him into replacing the Iran Deal with a document that lifts sanctions on Tehran, and in return they should withdraw their support for Hezbollah. Without a new agreement, Iran may feel like it is not being held to account by the West for its actions, which could explain why they are seizing oil tankers without any consequences. The Supreme Leader also knows the President does not want war, but Trump is not happy with his actions either. All sides need to reach a conclusion soon because the failure to do so could result in war.