This military operation comes in a context tense on the “northern front” Israel by Iran’s desire to arm Hezbollah. Without being devoid of ulterior motives on the side of Netanyahu, attacked on his security policy.
“Shield of the North”: it is the name given to the last “operation” of the Israeli army on the Lebanese border, announced this Tuesday at dawn by a vast campaign of communication. The stated objective of the IDF is the destruction of Hezbollah’s “cross-border attack tunnels”. The latter were dug as part of a plan to “conquer Galilee,” a threat made in 2012 in several propaganda videos of the Shiite militia in case of renewed conflict. Until now, the fear of tunnels was only associated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, against which Israel has developed an ad hoc detection technology (fifteen concrete casings leaving the enclave under blockade have been destroyed since the end of 2017). ) and undertook the construction of an underground wall in the south of the country.
On the other hand, the Israelis have long thought that the rocky soils of the north, difficult to pierce, protected them. Suspicious noises heard by locals and the principle “if there are some in the South, there will be in the North” led the army to set up in 2014 a specialized task force. The military refused to specify the number of tunnels targeted in Operation “Northern Shield” and their specificities, claiming only that they were not completed. In the afternoon of Tuesday, the IDF released a photo of the interior of one of the first “neutralized” conduits, 200 meters in length, including 40 inside Israel, from a Lebanese “private house”.
The destruction of these tunnels, more sophisticated than those of Gaza, should take several weeks, and could bring Israeli forces into Lebanese territory, warned Ronen Manelis, spokesman of the army. In the immediate future, authorities cordoned off the area around Metoula, Israel’s northernmost municipality, but gave no special instructions to local residents as Hanukkah school holidays begin. Reservists have not been mobilized. Lebanese side, radio silence of Hezbollah, although several local media announce an address of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese militia, in the evening.
In Israel, the timing of this operation, highly publicized, questions. Especially since the threat is not considered “immediate” by the IDF. Several commentators see the will of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to restore his reputation as “Mr. Security”, tarnished in public opinion by the rapid ceasefire in Gaza in mid-November. A decision that led to the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and a government crisis.
In defense of his refusal to engage in a major confrontation with Hamas, Netanyahu, who gave himself the portfolio of defense minister, then spoke of vague “security threats” on other fronts, that he was not able to detail publicly. Finally, the triggering of the operation comes two days after the latest Israeli police recommendations calling for Netanyahu’s indictment in several corruption cases.
New Iranian strategy
Beyond these considerations of domestic policy, several experts, including the widely listened general Amos Yadlin at the head of the Israeli INSS (Institute of National Security Studies), have been pointing for a few days of security developments in northern Israel, linked the change of strategy of Iran, Hezbollah’s unwavering ally. In recent years, Tehran has undertaken to reinforce and refine Hezbollah’s already over-inflated ballistic arsenal (around 120,000 missiles, one of the world’s largest firepower) by transporting advanced military equipment through Syria.
It is to counter these transfers of technology that Israel has conducted more than 200 strikes in Syria since 2015, until a Russian plane was mistakenly shot by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in September in the following confusion one of these raids, pushing Moscow to curb Israeli impunity by reinforcing the anti-aircraft defenses of the Syrian regime. For its part, Iran has begun to deliver its deliveries by air avoiding Syrian ground, following a direct line Tehran-Beirut. And Israeli rhetoric to adapt: at the end of September, Netanyahu challenged before the UN General Assembly the apathy of the Lebanese government against the pro-Iranian militia, assuring that a “missile conversion site” had established near the capital’s airport. Affirmations denied by Beirut.
For Israeli analyst Ofer Zalzberg, “Israel has the impression that Hezbollah has not taken its threats seriously since the relative calm that has prevailed since 2006. Both the army and the government had known about these tunnels for months. Acting now is a warning, far beyond the tunnel issue, a way of saying that if this arms race does not stop, there may be other preventative actions. ”
According to the expert of the ICG (International Crisis Group), the Israeli “message” is also addressed to the international community, while the Jewish state is pressuring the Lebanese government via the United States (Netanyahu met with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Monday) and France: “Israel wants to be ready to act, not only diplomatically, but also militarily.” At the same time, the Jewish state intends to continue the erection of a curtain of 80-kilometer concrete along the “blue line” with Lebanon.