Developing Hezbollah-Hamas axis gives Israel serious cause for concern
There is broad consensus within Israel’s intelligence community that the upcoming festival of Ramadan, due to commence in exactly one week’s time, will be even more volatile than usual this year.
There are many and varied reasons for this: the current wave of terrorism in Judea and Samaria that has been ongoing now for more than a year, the ever weakening ability of the Palestinian Authority to govern effectively, the lack of communication between Israel and the PA security forces, the incessant attempts by a variety of elements to foment violence on social media, as well as the profound internal crisis in Israel, which has caused a number of elements in the region to think that Israel is currently more fragile than ever.
Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah testified to this last week when he said that Israel will collapse before it reaches its 80th birthday. Over the years, Nasrallah has proven to be a renowned and highly successful master of the ability to play on Israeli domestic sentiment; though, in recent years he has lost some of this “charm” and has often opted to voice empty slogans.
This has had a lesser effect on Israelis, mainly since Nasrallah – as he remains holed up in his bunker deep underground in Beirut – is perceived as somebody who tends to “talk the talk” quite a lot but is less inclined to “walk the walk”.
Having said that, it is probably advisable to take his latest statement slightly more seriously. Last year, Nasrallah decided to raise the stakes on the eve of the signing of the maritime border deal to delineate the exclusive economic zone between Israel and Lebanon. He did so in an attempt to score points from the success or to prepare the ground for a potential escalation in the event of failure. Since then, he has calmed down and has returned to focusing his attention on the internal affairs of the collapsing Lebanese state, but now, once again, he has returned to his pet subject – Israel.
Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Nasrallah has refrained from any uncontrolled efforts to stir up the situation on the border with Israel. He has deviated from this policy on only a limited number of occasions on which Israel has carried out military activity in Lebanon or has targeted Hezbollah operatives (even on Syrian soil).
On a number of occasions, this has led to localized tension along the border, and both sides have had a common interest in calming the situation down to avoid a miscalculation that might snowball into an unwanted escalation – and perhaps even war.
However, it appears that now Nasrallah might be in a position to make an error in his reappraisal of the situation, thinking that Israel is more vulnerable than in the past. His organization has been preparing for such a moment for a long time now. A prime example of this is the fact that Hezbollah has restored its openly visible series of military outposts along the border with Israel, for the purpose of observation and if need be, to launch forces.
Israel has lodged complaints about this with UNIFIL on a number of occasions recently and has even tried to involve various international players, warning of a potential escalation, for the time being unsuccessful.
At the same time, in the last year, Hamas too has been expediting the efforts to gain a foothold in Lebanon, mainly in the Palestinian refugee camps in Tyre and Sidon. This activity is taking place under the leadership of Saleh al-Arouri – the man in charge of the foreign activity of Hamas military wing – who seeks to establish an additional front against Israel that can readily be activated in the event of an escalation in the Gaza Strip or Judea and Samaria.
Arouri and his men have recruited hundreds of Palestinians and trained them to fire rockets, as well as to prepare and lay explosive charges, with a view to employing these forces for a future day of reckoning.
Preventing escalation by diplomatic coordination
This Hamas activity has been taking place under the ever watchful eyes of Hezbollah, and apparently in coordination with the Shi’ite organization.
Nasrallah’s interest in doing so remains a question; in recent years, Hezbollah under his leadership has refrained from endangering Lebanon or embroiling it in potentially volatile situations, and if Hamas acts on its own interests (or under pressure from Iran) it could well drag Israel’s northern border area and Hezbollah into an escalation that nobody really wants, consequently wreaking havoc and destruction on Lebanon.
This policy of engaging in transnational activity has been a characteristic trait of Hamas policy in recent years. Hamas is urging its operatives in Judea & Samaria to carry out terrorist attacks, even though this might lead the Palestinian terrorist organization to be dragged into a war in Gaza, which it is probably not looking to do at this juncture.
It thus appears that Hamas has not learned or internalized lessons from past experience, such as the calamitous aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of the three boys in Judea and Samaria in 2014, which then led to IDF Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, and it might now make the same errors again.
The potential for such a scenario will clearly increase significantly during the upcoming month of Ramadan, which in any event is usually a powder keg waiting to be ignited, and in view of the large number of intelligence-based indications and warnings of terrorist attacks.
Since the beginning of the year, 14 Israelis have been murdered in terrorist attacks, and on a number of occasions, fatalities have been avoided by the hand of fate. The explosion of an explosive device two days ago near the Megiddo Junction, in which an Arab Israeli citizen was severely wounded, is a clear example of this.
As the casualty has no security-related background, it appears that this was an attempted terrorist attack, carried out using a roadside charge, of the type with which Israel is extremely familiar from the period of the IDF’s deployment in the Security Zone in south Lebanon.
This multi-front challenge requires Israel to adopt a highly cautious and responsible approach, while engaging in maximum coordination with a variety of entities – from the US, Europe, and the UN, to Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States – in an attempt to prevent escalation.
This is no simple task when within Israel’s Diplomatic-Security Cabinet there are individuals who themselves are currently undermining stability, and precisely when the overpowering urge to push ahead with the controversial legislation in the Knesset is tearing Israel apart from within, threatening its unity and the military proficiency of the IDF, and which could well spur on its enemies into taking action.
Source: israel hayom