The IDF is taking Hassan Nasrallah’s threats of revenge after the assassination of terrorist Samir Kuntar in Syria seriously.
The IDF General Staff is conducting threat assessments about the way in which Nasrallah plans on realizing his threat, which bring about the fear that the Hezbollah Secretary General may mistake Israel’s likely response to a revenge attack, whether it be in the north (near the Syrian or Lebanese border), abroad, or even inside Israel.
Senior IDF members remind us of Nasrallah’s words in the summer of 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, in which he admitted to underestimating the Israeli government’s response to the ambush in which Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser were kidnapped.
Israel, of course, started an operation following the kidnapping, which developed into a war in which Hezbollah and Lebanon suffered hundreds of deaths and heavy damage to population centers. Israel also suffered losses and thousands of rockets that fell inside its borders, but the damage was far lesser than that on the other side. After suffering the destructive results of that war, Hezbollah has avoided nearly all large-scale conflicts with Israeli forces for the past nine years.
Nasrallah is also underestimating Israel’s intentions to respond harshly if any harm comes to its civilians, soldiers, or sovereignty. A senior IDF official has stated unequivocally that Nasrallah and Hezbollah would be making a big mistake if they perpetrated a lethal terror attack in an attempt to avenge Kuntar’s assassination, which they attribute to Israel.
IDF leaders are also expressing surprise at the fact that Nasrallah maneuvered himself, in a speech he gave recently, towards a public commitment to avenge the assassination of Kuntar and two other members of the terrorist network he established. One of the two was Farhan Shaalan, a Druze man from the village of Ein Qiniyye in the northern Golan Heights who was Kuntar’s spokesman.
Nasrallah, and this is well-known here too, didn’t really take Kuntar and his operational capabilities very seriously. But he saw in Kuntar a symbol, perhaps because of his 29 years in prison in Israel (incarcerated terrorists are given a special status of respect and influence in Palestinian society and Arab nations).
Additionally, Nasrallah hasn’t forgotten that in fact, in order to free Kuntar, he sent his men to kidnap Goldwasser and Regev. When Kuntar was released, he gave him a reception at a Beirut stadium and intertwined his reputation with Kuntar’s.
However, Israeli security officials say that the situation is very different today, and that Nasrallah would be making a big mistake if he were to think Israel would not respond to a revenge attack: Firstly, because Israel is more prepared today – from an intelligence, operations, defensive, and most of all offensive point of view – for a conflict and/or war in Lebanon.
The IDF also emphasizing the fact that the Chief of General Staff (CoGS) and his deputy are both former GOCs of the Northern Command from recent years, and that they are the ones who prepared the IDF for exactly the clash into which Nastallah might drag it. On this matter it’s important to note that the current head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate (AKA Aman. -ed), Major-General Herzl Halevi, was commander of the Galilee Division (AKA The 91st Division. -ed), which planned the next offensive on the Lebanese border.
The quick appointment
An interesting fact that is likely connected to the IDF’s preparedness to quickly respond to any Hezbollah attack is the appointment of Colonel Aviad from the Air Force as commander of a special firing force for the Northern Command. Aviad is a fighter pilot who up until recently has headed the Air Force unit that participates in ground battles, and is replacing Artillery Corps man Ilan Levi in the position, after the latter was terminated by the CoGS over a security breach (he left classified documents in his vehicle, which was subsequently stolen with them inside. -ed).
The very fact of the quick appointment, which happened less than 48 hours after Levi’s firing, of an Air Force man to a position which had always been held by land Army men, points at the need CoGS Eizenkot sees in the Northern Command being ready to quickly respond to any development. The command structure of the firing force, which was formerly focused on artillery fire with the Air Force and Navy backing it up, has also switched. The Air Force has thousands of targets all over Lebanon today, which it can strike as the result of changes that were recently implemented with its operational proceedings.
True, Hezbollah and its fighters have gained important combat experience in Syria, as well as a huge stockpile of rockets and missiles, but they’ve also left 1,300 of their dead on Syrian ground, and suffered thousands of wounded. This fact raises ire even among Nasrallah’s Shia faction.
Western sources claim that pressure is being raised toward Nasrallah among the Lebanese factions these days to not commit a revenge attack over the Kuntar assassination, in a way that will cause Israel to powerfully retaliate against Lebanon. The main force pressuring Nasrallah is the March 14 movement, headed by Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq Hariri, the Sunni-Muslim Lebanese Prime Minister who was assassinated by Hezbollah.
The Shia faction also has voices who are calling for Nasrallah not to do irresponsible things. But what’s truly surprising is the fact that the Iranians are also sending Nasrallah messages these days that say a conflict with Israel right now could cause huge damage to the efforts of preserving Bashar Assad’s government in Syria, and Hezbollah and Iran’s influence in Lebanon.
A Mughniyeh reminder
These facts tell us that there are forces pushing Nasrallah to act now, and across from them are levers pressuring him in order to stop a complication with Israel. According to foreign publications, at the start of this year (in January 2015) Israel struck a group of Hezbollah commanders in Syria and Iran who were planning a series of terror attacks in the Israeli Golan Heights area. Seven of those commanders were killed in the strike, among them Jihad Mughnuyeh (son of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh) and an Iranian general.
In retaliation, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at a convoy of Givati Brigade fighters who were coming down from Har Dov – which Hezbollah calls the Shebaa farms. An officer and a fighter were killed in the attack, but Israel did not respond. That doesn’t mean that the balance over that attack is squared in Israel’s eyes, say security officials.
The IDF also mentions that Nasrallah sees the slopes of Hart Dov as a kind of “playground” where it can legitimately fire at Israel, since it considers the place to be occupied Lebanese ground. The facts are different, but it’s not important. What’s important is that it’s likely that Hezbollah will try to penetrate the ‘Shebaa farms’ again to perpetrate another revenge attack. That’s what the IDF is trying to prevent, to the benefit of all sides. Memorably, CoGS Gadi Eizenkot promised, when he was GOC Northern Command, a disproportionate response to any Hezbollah provocation.