Lebanese President Michel Aoun issued a warning to Israel on Sept. 6 that if it were to attack his nation, it would suffer the consequences of doing so.
Less than a week before Aoun put Israel on notice, the two states traded rocket fire along the Lebanon – Israel border. While their governments have never been at peace with one another, recent events are the first major armed conflicts since the month-long 2006 war. Border clashes have cropped up occasionally, but after two Israeli drones crashed in a Lebanese neighbourhood on Aug. 25, both Aoun and Hezbollah leadership have become more vocal of Israel’s military actions. Then a report emerged that Israel could attack a missile factory which allegedly supplies Hezbollah.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, promised to launch a “new phase” in its fight against Israel which will primarily focus on targeting drones inside Lebanese airspace. As the incident last month illustrated, the Israeli Defense Force has no qualms about flying surveillance craft along the border, equipment that is prone to venture into foreign airspace by design.
Aoun went a step further in condemning the drones which were downed, comparing them to a “declaration of war.”
“Any attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty … will be met with legitimate self-defence which Israel will bear the consequences of,” he said according to a transcript released from his office. Aoun had been meeting with United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubris as the two discussed ways to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control. Thus far, the conflict is relatively calm compared to other military clashes across the globe, and Aoun would like for it to remain that way.
In a related matter, Aoun invited the United States to mediate discussions over a maritime disagreement with Israel and US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker landed in Beirut on Tuesday to begin talks with Aoun’s government. It was not only Aoun and his diplomats seeking to control the conversation, but also Hezbollah. Nasrallah urged the Beirut negotiators to deal with Israel from a position of strength. The disagreement between the two states centres around an 860 sq. km. piece of the Mediterranean Sea which both Israel and Lebanon claim ownership of.
Nasrallah lectured his government, however, that American negotiators hold a bias towards Israel.
“The American envoy is a friend of Israel and keen about [protecting] Israel’s interest and wants to negotiate with our leaders on oil, gas, and border,” Nasrallah said.
Further complicating the situation, the US government has blacklisted two Hezbollah politicians and Jammal Trust Bank for “knowingly facilitating banking activities for Hezbollah.”
Within the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message to Beirut regarding the missile factory. Israel, he said, could target it in the coming days and Pompeo recommended that the Lebanese government dismantle it. For Israel, the compound represents one piece in the greater regional outlook as it provides weapons for Iran as well.
“This facility is of superior importance to the Hezbollah precision missile project, which is why Hezbollah, in fear of strikes, evacuated precious and unique equipment from the compound to civilian locations in Beirut,” an IDF report stated.
A senior Israeli official told reporters that the plant has received more focus in recent months and took precedent over Iran’s growing presence in Syria. Israel’s plan to eliminate missile factories is simply another component in its battle against an increasingly-close Iran – Lebanon relationship. Throughout it all, civilians in Syria are the ones who suffer the most: Hezbollah produces weapons in Lebanon and supplies them to Iranian proxy militias who use them in Syria.
The extension of Israel’s fight against Iran into both Syria and Lebanon is unsurprising given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of completely eradicating his foes. Netanyahu is enjoying – and capitalizing on – a period of carte blanche on the international stage. Few have every successfully opposed Israeli military actions, nor even condemned them, but with Trump in office, Netanyahu can do anything he feels necessary. After all, if American leaders do not pull the reigns in on Israel’s loose cannon, which world power is left to reprimand Israel? Any that do would risk their relationship with Washington, which is already easy enough to do without attacking Israel’s foreign policy. A war could be brewing if Israel continues to ramp up its military strikes, especially within Lebanese airspace. Doing so threatens to ruin a decade of relative peace between the two nations.