Killing Hizballah and Iranian troops in the Syrian Golan Heights is a “chess mat” to Hizballah, who wanted to drag Israel back to the reality of action-reaction cycle in the north – how and where will be the revenge and where does it lead to?
In the days after the attack related to IDF killing 3 senior Hizballah troops and an Iranian General of the Revolutionary Guards (and according to AFP, some Iranian soldiers), in the Syrian side of the Golan Hights, It seems that all sides understand the price of an escalation, but there is no question, that after eight years of relative silence in the northern border of Israel, we are now facing a new-old reality.
Actually, in order to analyze what happen here in the last few days one should go back a year ago: When IDF commanders could have been proud, emphasizing, that it has been 7 good years in the Galilee, while Hizballah didn’t carry out even a single attack against Israel on its northern border, since the last confrontation in 2006.
During these years, operational tension decreased and the feeling in Israel was that despite the bitter taste of the 2006 war, within the Israeli society, and the criticism it drew concerning IDF and the government functioning, this war has achieved deterrence. A balance of deterrence, that although it is been changing, still designs the game today: Massive amounts of missiles aimed at civilians in Israel and hidden within the civilian population in Lebanon, will necessarily cost, in the next confrontation, wide damage and casualties on both sides.Within these rules of the game, while Israel’s northern border remained relatively quiet, Hizballah repeatedly tried to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets abroad. After a large number of failures, he managed to plant a bomb on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria (July, 2012), resulted in the deaths of 6 people.
Under the cover of the quietness on the border with Israel, Hizballah has invested efforts to rehabilitate its military capabilities in southern Lebanon. It tripled the number of rockets aimed at Israel and their number now stands at more than 100 thousand, of which 40 thousand in UNIFIL area of operation. It built an extensive underground infrastructure below the villages in southern Lebanon, where it hides its rockets, and whenever necessary its troops. As for Hizballah troops – during the first years after the 2006 War, Hizballah troops were engaged in construction work and security missions. But in 2012, Hizballah took a strategic decision to send troops to Syria, giving assistance to the regime. These troops, who are now fighting for three years, have gained extensive combat experience in taking a village and handling urban warfare. When they are back to Lebanon they are motivated to fight against the Zionist enemy.
At the same time, Hizballah understands that Israel is developing the “Iron Dome”, as an answer to the rocket threat, and the organization decides to develop more threats against Israel. The organization takes advantage of the professionalism of its troops and establish a special force who will be trained to “conquer the Galilee,” or parts of it. Due to the plan it isn’t about an infiltration of a small squad of only few troops, but a much more massive event. The discussion in Israel about the possibility that there are cross-border tunnels under its northern border, as revealed in Gaza, increased Hizballah’s self-confidence, who perceived Israel as currently deterred and concerned not only from the rockets it has accumulated since 2006, but also by the capabilities of its troops.
So, growing sense of self-confidence along with the completion of the process of rehabilitation and operational readyness have eroded Israel’s deterrence and the organization was now ripe to return to the attacks on the northern border, or as Ibrahim al-Amin, the editor of the famous Lebanese “Al-Akhbar”, put it: “Now there is someone who can drag back Israel to the Lebanese mud, or even back to the situation before the year ’73” (al-Akhbar, March 2014), that is, to a war of attrition.
Previous to the decision to return to terror attacks on the border, was the assassination of Hassan Al-Laqees, (December 2013) Nasrallah’s close friend who was responsible for the procurement and development of weapons for Hezbollah, and in fact, dealt with weapons smuggling from Syria to Lebanon. Despite the fact that during the weeks before to the assassination, Hizballah suffered attacked against its assets and symbols in Beirut by Sunny Mujahidin groups, Hizballah considered Israel responsible for the assassination of Al-Laqees. This assassination was in fact the first attack against Hizballah, the organization attributed to Israel on Lebanese soil, in the past years. It was preceded by five attacks on Hezbollah sites in Syria, including “vouchers equal” missiles or long-range anti-aircraft systems, advanced-to-sea missile (Scud-D, SA-17, Yahont etc.).
Throughout this period, the prevailing assessment in Israel was that Hizballah was generally tied up in Syria and therefore can’t deal with two fronts. In addition, the feeling in Israel was that 2006 War memory is still etched in its mind and that the Israeli deterrence is still in effect. However, it was clear that the danger posed by Hizballah to Israeli citizens, and not just in the north, has increasingly become intolerable in view of the organization holding largest rocket arsenal in the world (as noted by US Secretary of State, Clinton). Moreover, even Israel understood that combat experience accumulated in Syria by Hizballah troops, eventually will be directed against Israel.
In February 2014 another attack against a target of Hizballah was carried out, this time, in Lebanon, not far from the Syrian border. Hizballah, who again attributed the attack to Israel, was not long in reacting: A month later it blew up several IEDs in the Golan Heights and Shab’a farms near an IDF patrol. Hizballah has reached the point it feels strong enough to take the risk of war (even if not interested in it). At the same time, it needs to send a message for the Lebanese internal arena, that the organization is capable of handling two fronts, and that the “Zionist Enemy” was and remains “a top priority, in the eyes and head of the Resistance” (as Nasrallah himself said). In addition, after two operations in Gaza, which Israel has failed to maneuver and reach a decisive victory, its weak image in the eyes of Hizballah grew stronger. The Exaggerated self-confidence of Hizballah, was expressed in articles in the Lebanese press. Thus, Al-Amin, the editor of “Al-Akhbar”, described Israel as a “spoiled child that should be pulled by his ear”, in order to deliver him the message (March 2014).
In the Last fall, a Hizballah trooper was killed in an explosion of a listening device in south Lebanon. Hizballah again attributed the action to Israel, reacted due to the equation it put on the table a few months ago: planting IEDs in Shab’a Farms against IDF engineering force (October 2014, Number of injuries). Hizballah’s message was clear: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”. Israel has chosen to contain the event and Hizballah’s self-confidence has increased even more. For the first time in a long period, the organization took public responsibility for the attack. Lebanese press states that “Israel knows that Lebanon will be the graveyard for its soldiers. That is the reason for its minor reaction again – artillery fire toward non-populated areas” (Website of Bint Jbeil, October 2014).
On December 7, 2014 two targets were attacked again near the Damascus airport, where, according to the assessments, located advanced weapon systems, on their way to Lebanon. This was the test of Hizballah’s equation – would the organization, for the first time, react to attacks against it on Syrian soil? In an interview with the Lebanese TV channel “Al-Mayadin”, Nasrallah gave the answer: “The Resistance will react to any new Israeli aggression. Any attack on Syrian territory is considered an attack against the Resistance and would not be left without a reaction”. Nasrallah, who apparently, wished to prepare public opinion for the future terrorist attack against Israel from the Golan Heights, gave during the interview, hints to the planned attack: “At Shab’a Farms and Quneitra there is something big and dangerous planned for it …” . At same time, Nasrallah made it clear that the Resistance is taking a cautious policy. In an attempt to maintain ambiguity regarding to who will be responsible for the planned attack, Nasrallah denied that the Lebanese Resistance troops are operating in the Golan Heights, and made it clear there, it is only the “Syrian Resistance”.
This week, the rules have changed again, Hizballah sought to produce an equation designed to deter Israel from acting against Syria or Lebanon depth, suffered a “checkmate”. In an operation attributed to Israel, were killed an Iranian general and 6 Hezbollah troops, including at least three senior commanders, by helicopter attacked a convoy of vehicles traveling at noon in Quneitra area (which, as noted, Nasrallah spoke about in an interview two days earlier). Among Hizballah commanders were, Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the organization’s military commander, who was killed in Damascus in 2008. Jihad was appointed commander of Hizballah forces on the Golan Heights and we can assume that his mission was not only to combat Islamic organizations operating there against the Assad regime. For a long time, Hizballah recognizes the Syrian Golan Heights as a convenient arena to carry out attacks against Israel and as mentioned, already operated there in March last year. The Civil War and the chaotic situation in the region enable region enable Hizballah to deny responsibility for the attack, if necessary, and in addition, to avoid retaliation by Israel against villages in South Lebanon that support the organization. Nasrallah, in the interview before the killing of Mughniyeh junior, in fact, already “sewed the suit” – One could only imagine how Nasrallah planned to tell his troops that Mughniyeh junior revenge, through Syria, his father’s death on Syrian soil. If so, the operation against Mughniyeh and his troops on Sunday, was a preemptive action of a major attack planned by Hezbollah against Israel on the Golan Heights.
The timing of the attack is probably according to an operational opportunity: Jihad Mughniyeh is not the kind of person that just drives around the streets in the middle of the day. Due to his sensitive family name and his secret mission, he was obviously a man who lived underground. So when there is an operational opportunity one should take advantage of it, in the full knowledge that this will prevent the terror attack already in the pipeline. We’ll never know, whether the “sin of Hubris” has brought Mughniyeh and the Iranian general to their deaths, along with six Hezbollah fighters. Whether it was an exaggerated sense of confidence, which caused them to travel in a convoy at midday in a war zone. What most important is that now Israel is the one that should be careful of underestimating its enemy. Nasrallah will look for a convenient target – an achievement that, on the one hand, will not deteriorate into a general war, and on the other hand, will convey the message to both Israel and Hizballah troops, that such action will not pass in silence. If Hizballah will follow his own equation (“An eye for an eye”), it will probably look for a military target, senior or important enough, on Israel’s northern border.
In this “Chess” game, attention should be given to psychological warfare: Iran and Hizballah are using this operation to tell their own version of what is happening in Syria. According to them, it is a proof that Israel is behind the civil war in Syria, helping ISIS and other radical Islamic organizations. Accordingly, Israel “sees” the transfer of the battlefield with Hizballah into Syria, a better new way to get to Lebanon. So, beyond the attempt to delegitimize Israel, Hizballah’s version is aimed to strengthen his image in the Lebanese arena, as the defender of Lebanon. An image that was cracked, given Hizballah’s deep involvement in the civil war in Syria and the death of about 1,000 young Lebanese troops from Hizballah in battles there. However, the fact that Israel had the initiative is insufficient to establish such claims. The idea that Israel operates ISIS sounds hallucinatory when listening to threats made by ISIS on the need to release Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from the hands of the Jews.
Bottom line, the process of returning to the old-new policy of “days of battle” and action-reaction cycle, began a year ago, when Hizballah apparently made the decision to return to operate against Israel from the northern border adding the Syrian Golan Heights as a second scene of operation. However, Current event presents a dilemma to Nasrallah. It undermines the equation, which sought to deter Israel from carrying out offensive operations against Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon depth. Israel sent a message that not only does it not flinch from revenge operations taken on the border, it also will not hesitate to take preemptive actions if necessary. On the one hand, Hizballah understands the risks of harsh reaction that could plunge Lebanon into war. In addition, if the organization will try to carry out a terrorist attack abroad, the chances of success are in serious doubt. On the other hand – it cannot go out with nothing in front of its troops.
Hizballah itself defined the event a turning point in the conflict open between Israel and the organization, also due to the fact that Iran is involved in it directly. Tehran has already stated, in this connection that “The Golan Heights front is now open, and the reaction will be crucial and difficult”. For its part, Hizballah also called on Hamas factions (Popular Committees) to participate martyrs blood revenge. It should be noted that in the interview before the operation in the Golan Heights, Nasrallah referred to the reconcilement of Hamas and the Hizballah, after they found themselves on opposite sides of the civil war in Syria. Both organizations declared this week, that the struggle against Israel brings them to “join forces”.
In the end of the day, both Israel and Hizballah are not interested in war and to that extent the balance of deterrence is still valid. But the atmosphere created now, when Hizballah has committed to the equation which requires it to respond in the north and Iran is committed to directly take part in revenge – may lead to a reaction that Israel will find it difficult to contain. Thus, despite the current operation was intended, along with thwarting an attack against Israel, to get across to Hizballah that its equations are irrelevant – the parties could find themselves back in the reality of action-reaction cycle as it was until 2006, a reality that Israel cannot live with it over time, and therefore the possibility of another war is again on the table.