Analysis: Hezbollah, Assad Taking Gloves Off in Fight Against Israel

Previous incidents on the border were attributed to extreme Sunni organizations. This time, the IDF is pointing the finger at their rival, Hezbollah.

The significance of the incident on Friday on the Israeli-Lebanese border goes beyond its immediate outcome – three lightly wounded IDF soldiers who will be returned to their units after medical examinations.

Following previous incidents that originated in the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese border triangle - which included rocket fire and the death of an Israeli soldier (Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, who was killed by a Lebanese soldier) – the IDF pointed a finger at extreme Sunni groups. This time, the address is these organizations' rival, Hezbollah. Immediately after the explosion on Friday, the IDF fired tank shells on a Hezbollah position in the village of Kila, north of the Israeli city of Metula, and a senior officer accused Hezbollah of planting the explosive.

For the moment at least, Hezbollah is keeping quiet – just like Israel did after the series of aerial strikes it reportedly carried out in Syria and Lebanon since early 2013, in which it allegedly targeted convoys carrying weapons for Hezbollah.

Yet Friday's incident in Har Dov points to a gradual change in the rules of the game on the northern front, after years of almost complete calm. Slowly, Hezbollah and the Assad regime are taking the gloves off in their struggle against Israel. The attacks they both attribute to the IDF are answered with terror attacks from the other side, even if for the time being the targets are limited and the operations are low-profile, and no public claims of responsibility are voiced in their aftermath.

Last December, shortly after the mysterious assassination of Hezbollah commander Hassan al-Laqis in Beirut, an IDF jeep was targeted by an IED in an area controlled by the Syrian Army around Mt. Hermon. In early March, immediately after a Hezbollah convoy was attacked in Lebanon, rockets from Syria were fired toward the Israeli side of the Hermon. Last week the IDF thwarted an attempt to plant an IED on the Syrian border, hitting Hezbollah operatives or militants loyal to Assad. The incident on Friday is the latest in this series of events.

The Syrian civil war is now entering its fourth year with a death toll surpassing 150,000 (the UN no longer releases official estimates, since there is no accurate way to count the casualties.) In Lebanon, a war between Hezbollah and the Sunni militias, Assad's rivals, is burning on a low flame. Rocket fire exchanges in the Lebanon Valley are a daily phenomenon; every month there's another car bomb in the Dahiya, the capital Beirut's Shi'ite quarter. The average monthly death toll in Lebanon now approaches 50. While Syria is crumbling and Lebanon is bleeding, Israel is not immune to the repercussions. According to foreign reports, the Israeli intervention up north is measured: six or seven airstrikes over more than a year. But the threshold of fear of the other side has been breached. Syria and Hezbollah know they can retaliate as long as the intensity of the retaliation and the number of casualties does not force Israel's hand into a wide-scope military confrontation.

The battle in Syria and in Lebanon is fought by two rival camps, Shi'ite-Alawite and Sunni, for whom Israel is currently only a secondary target. But the Sunnis (for now, from the Lebanese border only) and their opponents (from the Golan Heights border and from Lebanon) make salvos at Israeli territory every so often. Even though the Syrian civil war is the top factor guiding the rival factions' maneuvers, Israel is no longer isolated from the mayhem to its north.

FILE PHOTO: Mock explosion in southern Lebanon as part of Lebanese film shooting, January 21, 2014
Gil Eliyahu