Little public attention, if any, has been paid to the drama taking place on Israel’s northern borders, that will shape the sector for years to come.
Much of this drama is unfolding in plain sight, from the Israel Defense Forces’ discovery and demolition of a grid of cross-border tunnels dug by the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, to strikes on Iranian assets in Syria, to diplomatic moves by the United States and Russia opposite the Lebanese government.
All of the open actions, however, include intensive intelligence, operational, economic and diplomatic efforts behind the scenes that in fact constitute the lion’s share of Israel’s security operations.
The IDF is spearheading these security operations, and its main objectives are preventing Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, curtailing arms smuggling into Lebanon, and preventing Hezbollah from operating in the Golan Heights.
The latter was also the objective of Wednesday’s airstrike near Syria’s Tel Harara, a site that houses some of the Syrian military’s intelligence apparatus and which has been targeted in the past.
The strike was independent of another security incident on Wednesday, during which a Lebanese drone breached Israeli airspace. This was not the first incident of its kind, and likely won’t be the last. This incident was, however, made public by the IDF because, unlike in previous cases, the drone was spotted by civilians, who alerted the media. It is possible the IDF also sought to embarrass Hezbollah, which is in one of the most difficult periods in its history.
These two events obscure a much larger picture.
Hezbollah is under pressure—the result of years of fighting in Lebanon and Syria and the significant cut in its budget as a result of the U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iran—and it shows.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s anxiety is becoming increasingly palpable, from his nervous speech and threats against Israel two weeks ago, through Hezbollah’s conspicuous disregard for the IDF’s construction of a barrier in contested areas on the Israel-Lebanon border, to its acquiescence regarding the fact that Beirut’s government will hold direct, U.S.-mediated talks with Israel over the two countries’ disputed maritime border.
These talks will take place against the backdrop of a tripartite meeting set to take place later this month in Jerusalem between the national security advisers of the United States, Russia and Israel. Syria’s problems may not be resolved in this meeting, but it places Israel squarely alongside the “good guys,” who happen to represent the superpowers.
This sends a clear signal to Iran and its allies in Lebanon and Syria, and also serves as a green light for Israel’s defense policies in the northern sector.
It appears that Israel will be able to continue—albeit cautiously—with these policies, which include striking Iranian assets in Syria and Lebanon, as long as its actions do not embarrass the Russians or provoke a direct conflict with Syria or Hezbollah.
Still, we must remember that no one is infallible and that the enemy is watching, learning and evolving in ways that may challenge Israel in the future in a multitude of ways.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.