The tension between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border has gone on for the past two months. The organization’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, continues to reiterate his determination to settle accounts with Israel following the death of a Lebanese operative whom Hezbollah lent to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in a Damascus bombing raid attributed to Israel last July.
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Two of Hezbollah’s attempts to exact revenge were foiled on the border with Lebanon and in the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces killed four militiamen who were planting a bomb along the border fence with Syria, apparently on an Iranian-sponsored mission. The IDF’s present state of alert to frustrate further operations will continue in the Northern Command throughout the Jewish fall holiday in September and October.
What has Nasrallah learned about us in these past few months? Strategically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chalked up a major achievement this week by signing peace treaties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, under declared American aegis. The Trump administration’s ardent support for Israel is obvious to all. The security aid agreement, which was formulated during the Obama administration, and the tight military coordination between the countries project a message of power toward Iran, but also toward Hezbollah.
Domestically, the developments have been far less cheerful. It’s a safe bet that Nasrallah took note of them, too. Israel’s democracy is based in part on an unwritten pact between the citizen and the state, according to which the state must see to the citizen’s security, health and basic economic needs. The seven months of the coronavirus crisis, like an extended version of the way the civilian front in the north was handled in the second Lebanon war, have demonstrated that the state is not fulfilling its part of the agreement. This period has exposed lacunae in Israel’s stamina, in the internal solidarity between its different population groups and the degree of the public’s trust in the governing powers. As such, Israel’s deterrent ability in the face of Hezbollah has been undercut.
Matters reached a peak, perhaps a temporary one, in the recent disagreements over canceling the restrictions on the “red” cities (because some of them were ultra-Orthodox) and the breaks given to the Haredim for the Jewish holidays. Some Haredi rabbis’ insistence on holding mass prayers without restrictions undermines the fragile and delicate balance between the tribes in Israeli society.
A problematic rift has ensued, and as a result, the country’s citizens might infer that the state will not assist them in future crises and will leave everyone to fend for themselves. Somewhat like the Second Lebanon war of 2006 or the war in the Gaza Strip in 2014, Israel seems to be working vigorously but achieving reasonable results only for a brief period. Afterward, when Israel is required to make an effort for the longer term, things fall apart. The state’s conduct prevents it from succeeding.
Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist organization, not a virus, but Nasrallah might conclude from the coronavirus episode that all he needs to do in the event of a future war is bite his lip for a time and hold on tight. Israel will do the rest by making its own mistakes.
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The blatant rifts in the Israeli society – right/left, Jewish/Arab, secular/Orthodox and Haredi – have been with us for a long time. Many well-intentioned people, such as President Reuven Rivlin, think that the solution lies in a search for common spheres of activity in realms of mutual benefit, such as education and employment. But the open wounds are festering precisely now, during an unprecedented crisis, and undercutting social solidarity – and along with it, the functions of society in its fight against the virus.
Another point has to do with the functions of the defense establishment. The IDF is the most resource-rich body in the country. After many hesitations and extraneous political considerations (the tension between Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett), it has been entrusted with more powers in the second wave of the pandemic.
The Home Front Command, which is coordinating the army’s activity, is skilled in working with citizens and local governments. However, the army entered the picture late. It is still deploying with a certain slowness and having a hard time reversing the general situation. This, too, is a problematic message in case of a possible future confrontation, in which the public will have to obey officers’ self-defense directives and count on the IDF’s assistance in a period of distress.