The dynamic of an expected terrorist attack

Why now? And what next? Questions and answers by Amir Rapaport.

Smoke rising from the area of the incident in Har Dov.  REUTERS/Karamallah Daher

The events that took place in the Har Dov sector are the realization of a dynamic that was known ahead of time. When Hezbollah doesn't ignore an attack on its members, and admits openly that it took place, the terrorist organization usually carries out a retaliation or at least attempts an attack on the border between Israel and Lebanon. The Hezbollah member killed last week in an Israeli attack was a target thought to be Iranian on Syrian territory. The retaliation may have taken place today. According to reports, the IDF thwarted an attempted attack adjacent to the Shebaa Farms area of Har Dov. Even before all of the details about the incident are clear, there are several questions that arise.

Q:  What next? Has the escalation ended?

A: Not necessarily. The ball is back in Hezbollah's court. War is not in the interest of Israel or Hezbollah but many wars happen without any side intending it to happen, including the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many times, the deterioration of the situation is just by chance. A number of months ago, a Hezbollah missile, fired under similar circumstances of retaliation, missed a military ambulance by a few meters. But the IDF staged an evacuation of "wounded" to Haifa's Rambam Hospital, and thus contained the incident. And what about this time? It's too early to know. Will Hezbollah try again? It's possible.

Q: Is this a "good time" for a strong retaliation that may even lead to a 3rd Lebanon War?

A: There's no good time for war, but it is possible that a time when Hezbollah is under heavy public pressure, facing a combined economic crisis and coronavirus crisis in Lebanon, is more ideal than usual times. On the other hand, the situation in Israel isn't that great either, socially or economically. It's possible that the Israeli crisis will embolden Nasrallah. It's also important to remember that the considerations aren't only Lebanese. Hezbollah is a tool of Iran and receives orders directly from Tehran.

Iran, on its part, has been seeking for some time a way to retaliate against Israel for the attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, and maybe also for the explosions in Iran. Nobody has claimed responsibility for any of them (including the one at the uranium processing facility in Natanz about a month ago), but some have been attributed to Israel. The tensions are rising, and the Iranians may attack a target on Israel's home front, and not only by means of a cyberattack like the one against Israel's water facilities that luckily failed when they tried to carry it out in April. 

The Iranians have a certain threshold for remaining in denial and suffering attacks without responding (unless there is unnecessary bragging like the statements of former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett that he supposedly "changed the rules of the game" in Syria). It is possible that this threshold has been crossed.

In any case, the Iranians are certainly behind the recent steps taken by Hezbollah. 

Q: Did Israel try to thwart the expected attack?

A: The truth is that the only way the Israel tried to thwart the attack was by reducing the visibility of its presence along the border. That is to say, forces were moved back and buildings were apparently evacuated. Vehicles did not travel on roads exposed to fire from Lebanon. But Hezbollah has highly precise Kornet missiles that, during the war in 2006, succeeded in penetrating IDF Merkava tanks from a distance of more than 5 kilometers. Israel used psychological warfare, including threatening Hezbollah with war if there is a retaliation. So far, this tactic did not completely work. Now Israel will try to show that the situation is returning to normal, but a lot depends on Hezbollah. 

Q: So who is deterring whom? Does Israel deter Hezbollah, or does Hezbollah deter Israel? 

A: Since the 2nd Lebanon War there has been mutual deterrence between Israel and Hezbollah. It's not pleasant to admit it, but it's the truth. The future balance of deterrence depends on the next developments, if there will be ones, in the north.