Know thy enemy 

Source: Know thy enemy – Israel Hayom

Yoav Limor

Many experts now tend to view Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon as a single entity – the northern sector – which may become the scene of the future “northern war.” Given the increasing interests shared by Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group, inspired by their mutual Iranian patron, this is a reasonable scenario.

Hezbollah has taken an active part in the bloody civil war in Syria, fighting alongside Assad’s forces. The war has claimed 1,700 of the terrorist group’s operatives, and if Hezbollah finds itself in trouble with Israel, it will expect Syria’s assistance.

Israel understands this alliance, but at this time, most defense officials still prefer to separate the two fronts. The policies pursued vis-à-vis Lebanon consist mostly of dialogue, while those practiced opposite Syria comprise – according to foreign media reports – of missiles.

This stems from the difference between the sectors and the potential threat each of them poses.

Israel feels it can act freely to neutralize threats from Syria. Over the past few years, foreign reports have attributed dozens of strikes on Syrian soil to Israel, including one as recent as Wednesday, none of which garnered a significant Syrian response. Assad is busy rebuilding his regime and his country, and apart from nonthreatening anti-aircraft fire and a few feeble statements in the media, he is careful not to risk a full-fledged confrontation with Israel.

The situation in Lebanon is different, as Hezbollah would not hesitate to retaliate over an Israeli strike. For this reason, Israel is careful to target the terrorist group from Syrian soil, which allows the IDF to thwart weapon shipments to Hezbollah without risking a full-on confrontation.

Iran understands this as well, which is why it is pursuing the construction of weapon production facilities in Lebanon.

Israel is not oblivious to Iran’s efforts. While this plan is still years from becoming an actual threat, Israel has made it clear that unless the construction of these sites comes to a halt, Israel will act to decommission them, which could lead to war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in their meetings with world leaders, have repeatedly warned that Israel will not tolerate Iran’s efforts to tighten its grip on Syria and Lebanon.

This war of words is aimed not only for Hezbollah and Iran’s ears but also for Lebanon. The country is set to hold elections on May 6 and the results are already predicted to prompt a new political crisis.

Israel’s message to Lebanon is clear: Hezbollah is dragging you toward the abyss. The Shiite terrorist group, of course, responds in equally menacing rhetoric, both directly and via the Lebanese government, which is boisterously protesting Israel’s construction of a wall on the Israeli side of the countries’ shared border.

The wall is being built to make it harder for Hezbollah to target Israel in the future, but Lebanon claims the construction violates its sovereignty on 13 points along the border. Beirut’s real struggle, however, is maritime, where it has a long-standing dispute with Israel over an area containing natural gas deposits. This particular hot potato has been turned over to UNIFIL, the U.N.’s peacekeeping force in Lebanon, to mediate.

Israel, for its part, is determined to continue with the border wall project, but it is aware that the work could be used as a pretext to provoke an undesirable escalation. The challenge in the near future will be to continue using only dialogue opposite Lebanon and avoiding using the language of strikes reserved for Syria.

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