Hezbollah asked Israel to halt Sunday's exhange of fire, a senior Israeli official told journalists Monday.
Haaretz Weekly Episode 38
The leader of the Shi'ite group, Hassan Nasrallah, relayed a message through other countries asking to end the hostilities, the senior security source said. "We received pleas from Lebanon through third-party countries, pleading with us not to respond" to the fire, said the source. Other political and military sources named the mediators as France, Egypt and the United States.
"They got in touch with us," said the security source. "Nasrallah acted through [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri, asking to end the incident. It was clear to us that from Nasrallah's perspective, he wants the fighting to stop, because he wants to end it with honor. I am not concerned by Nasrallah's considerations as long as our interests are advanced with respect to the threats" against Israel, he said.
On Sunday, Hezbollah fired several anti-tank missiles at an Israeli army base and military vehicle in northern Israel, the culmination of week-long tensions between the two sides. The Israeli army said that the attack caused some material damage but no casaulties. Hostilities ended after a few hours.
Top Hezbollah officials denied on Monday Israel's claim that it suffered no casualties in the fire exchanges with the Shi'ite group on Sunday.
It later emerged that the Israeli military had carried out a diversionary maneuver that included evacuating bandaged soldiers to a hospital. After a missile hit the armored IDF vehicle, the army called in a helicopter to the scene and two soldiers were filmed being carried out on a stretcher.
In conversations with officials in France, Egypt and the U.S., Israeli defense officials understood that Hariri realized Lebanon was under threat. The latest incidents made him realize which direction Lebanon is heading, they said.
"The bottom line is that Hezbollah conveyed messages to us to stop," the senior security source stressed.
Re-ranking Israel's threats
During the briefing, the source revealed that five months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, ordered that the 2019 intelligence assessment shift its priorities with regard to threats facing Israel.
Over the past few years, the Iranian nuclear threat topped the list, followed by Iran's entrenchment in Syria and the region as a whole. Third was Hezbollah, which is growing stronger and improving the accuracy of its guided missiles.
The security source said the threats were re-ordered: Hezbollah's missile project was now the second priority, and Iran's regional entrenchment third. The ranking is dependent on regional developments, the source said; Israel cannot afford for Hezbollah to have missiles with increased precision.
"Although the Iranian nuclear [program] is our top priority, the Hezbollah missile accuracy program has become a significant threat and we cannot allow it to continue to be established."
The source said that in Lebanon, "We want to change the equation, so it suits our goals regarding the threats, and we are managing matters carefully."
Israel's political leaders have directed other security bodies to update their threat assessments and pay attention to Hezbollah, and particularly to its precision missile program, the source said, adding, "We aren't acting on a whim. This is part of a whole strategy to achieve the goals we set for ourselves."
Political and operational efforts on multiple fronts
There were several incidents in the last few days, the source said: "We were under attack from Syria and Iraq and, according to foreign reports, from Lebanon too." On each front, he said, there are political and operational efforts about which the public knows little or nothing.
Regarding Iranian entrenchment in Syria, he said the recent developments indicate that there were difficulties, which is why it's now operating out of Iraq, Yemen and other countries.
"We have no interest in taking action in a manner that would lead us in to an unnecessary war," he said. "We are handling multiple fronts, some of which the general public is unaware of."
He also had a message to convey to Hezbollah: "We are prepared for any scenario that might arise." If Hezbollah decides to continue to fight – "Nasrallah knows, or doesn't know, what awaits him."
Regarding the balance of terror Hezbollah is trying to create, the source said, "We have acted in the past and are acting now to meet the goals we set for ourselves."
An eye on U.S.-Iran relations
Israel is waiting to see whether Iran and the U.S. are going to resume negotiations regarding the nuclear deal and the sanctions the U.S. placed on Tehran after exiting the agreement, the official said.
"The Americans have no illusions about Iran," the source said. "There could be dialogue between the parties, but I think it will be handled differently than previous negotiations with Iran." He added that Israel has an excellent military and political partnership with the United States.
Russia had nothing to do with the hostilities on Israel's northern border on Sunday, he said, adding that Russia was updated in real time. The source said he is more concerned about certain western European leaders who want to resume dialogue with Tehran and return to the nuclear agreement.
"I thought [French president Emanuel] Macron's meeting with top Iranians was not right when, at that same time, Iran was attacking Israel and trying to execute drone terrorism," he said.
More details to come...