Israel reported a new border clash with Hezbollah at the same time as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is increasing its attacks in Syria. In the broader picture, the Iranian-backed group could be an outlet for the Middle East to channel its discontent with an emboldened Israel that has its sights set on claiming land belonging to Palestinians.
Small Border Incursion Reignites Flames of War
Three to five Hezbollah fighters reportedly crossed over the Israeli border July 27 “by a few metres,” according to CNN. The transgression prompted the Israeli military to fire upon them in a successful repulsion.
“We spotted them as they moved close to the Blue Line, monitored them and tracked them,” said Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. James Conricus. “Shortly after they crossed the Blue Line, we engaged and were able to thwart the attack. We confirmed visually that the terrorists fled back to Lebanon.”
Hezbollah denied the event took place and claimed Israel struck a civilian home with airstrikes in al-Habaria, Lebanon.
“The Islamic Resistance affirms that there has been no clash or shooting from its part in the events of the day until now. Rather, it was only one party, which was the fearful, anxious and tense enemy,” the group said in a statement.
Israeli airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in the region would not be unprecedented. It was such a strike near Damascus that Israel blames for the border incident. The Israel attack the week prior killed a Hezbollah militant and the group was keen to seek revenge.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had promised retribution, but it maintains the failed border incursion was not that; proper payback for the killing of its member “is definitely coming.”
Mostly Words — For Now
For now, the two sides have mostly let the border incident devolve into a war of words, Foreign Policy reported.
“Everything claimed by the Israeli media and the IDF about a Hezbollah infiltration … is an attempt to invent false Israeli victories, Hezbollah stated. Meanwhile, Israel said the group was “playing with fire.”
Hezbollah certainly has motivation enough for reemerging to terrorize Israel. The attack on its fighter in Syria broke a long-standing, informal agreement between the two factions to not attack one another, The New York Times reported. Israel, clearly the aggressor by killing a Hezbollah fighter in Syria, may have poked a sleeping bear.
In September 2019, the group claimed a rocket attack across the border struck Israeli targets. The action was seen as retaliation for continued Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon, which drastically increased in 2019.
Hezbollah has reason enough to strike back against Israel for its continued, often unprovoked aggressions in the region. However, the group said it wishes to maintain the gentleman’s agreement between both sides.
“The deterrence equation with Israel is standing,” said Hezbollah Deputy Secretary Naim Qassem. “Amending or changing the rules of engagement or the deterrence equation are not on our agenda.”
Militias Could Respond to Annexation
Hezbollah could play a role in resisting Israeli annexation of the West Bank, giving it a new cause to rally the troops. Some Arab states have condemned Netanyahu’s plan, but few expect a traditional war to play out to prevent it from transpiring. Proxy attacks by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas are far more likely to convey the Muslim world’s discontent.
Iran, Israel’s popular archenemy, conveniently funds and backs both groups on the Israeli border, Newsweek reported. The have already established communication on the annexation plan and appear willing to coordinate against Israel.
Hamas Political Chief Ismail Haniyeh wrote to Nasrallah warning oof the “grave dangers” of Netanyahu’s plan. He asked the Hezbollah leader to organise a response, a request that came after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the regime would back efforts to “eliminate the evil threat posed by the fraudulent, usurping Zionist regime.”
Netanyahu’s Ace in the Hole
It is also possible, however, that the border incursion on July 27 was not a result of Hezbollah’s plan of action for countering either the killing of their militant in Syria or Netanyahu’s annexation plan. Instead, the entire incident could have been designed by Netanyahu to shore up his waning support among Israeli’s.
The prime minister is facing a corruption trial, demonstrations demanding his resignation, and a dispute between his coalition government over the national budget, Foreign Policy reported. By playing up the border crisis, Netanyahu could compel voters to recall his one undeniable strength: his fierce stance on national security.
As the prospect of another election looms in 2021, Netanyahu must question whether his favorable luck will run out. He barely managed to survive the most recent election by forming a coalition government between Likud and the Blue and White party. Israelis are growing tired of Netanyahu, particularly as COVID-19 sweeps the nation again. Israelis are growing restless from election after election and voters have shown they’re willing to let Netanyahu go.
If he calls for another election next year in a bid to stop rival coalition leader Benny Gantz from taking control, Netanyahu will need more cards to play. A renewed military confrontation with Hezbollah may be just the ace in the hole to make right-leaning Israeli voters fall back in love with Netanyahu.