Analysis |

Weapons Factories Are the Real Israel-Lebanon Flashpoint – Not the Border Wall

If the Israeli army uses force to thwart Iran's plans in Syria, Hezbollah's response could be violent

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
UNIFIL peacekeepers and Lebanese troops at the Israeli border near the village of Naqoura,  February 8, 2018.
UNIFIL peacekeepers and Lebanese troops at the Israeli border near the village of Naqoura, February 8, 2018.
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Israel's recent warnings have been about Lebanon, but the latest almost-weekly attack – according to the foreign media – took place in Syria. Tuesday night into Wednesday a Syrian defense and research facility in Jamarya near Damascus was bombed from the air. According to reports in the Arab media, Israel had already hit the area at least twice. Also, in September, there was an airstrike on a large defense and research installation near Hama, an attack deemed of special importance.

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The latest strike followed a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Israel still appears to be conveying to the Russians, Iranians and other players in the north that it’s determined to address the threat of advanced weapons, particularly Iran’s effort to arm Hezbollah with systems that improve its rockets’ accuracy.

The attack came as the Assad regime hit rebel enclaves in central and northern Syria, including via deadly chemical weapons and untrammeled airstrikes.

The regime’s increased aggressiveness, as well as Iranian and Russian efforts to control Syria the day after the civil war ends, haven’t stopped Israel’s efforts to block the arming of Hezbollah with advanced weapons. It’s an open question how Israel will respond to Iran’s intention to set up arms plants in Lebanon.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces started building part of a wall meant to stretch along the Lebanese border near Rosh Hanikra. Work will soon start on another section near Metula; construction is planned for an 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) stretch and will take several months. Lebanon keeps warning about the implications (Lebanese cabinet members toured the area last week), arguing that Israel is encroaching on Lebanese territory.

Since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, a dispute has simmered over the border at 12 locations, as well as over the maritime border, which touches on ownership of natural gas reserves. Six of the disputed locations have been resolved, but the border markers haven’t been relocated.

Attempts to calm the situation are taking place on two channels – the tripartite committee with UNIFIL and the U.S. administration, with the mediation of the State Department’s David Satterfield.

Despite the growing tension, Israel believes that neither the Lebanese government nor Hezbollah seek a confrontation over the border issue. A real source of tension is the existence of weapons plants and the possibility that the IDF will use force to thwart Iran’s plans, a move that could lead to a violent response by Hezbollah.

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