Middle East In Focus
The discovery of a network of alleged Hezbollah “attack tunnels” has triggered concerns of a possible armed conflict between Israel and the Iran-backed Lebanese militia. While some Israeli observers believe that such a confrontation is actually less likely thanks to the discovery, many agree that this most recent development demonstrates Israel’s continuing vulnerability to a Hezbollah attack, especially with more sophisticated rockets and tunnels at the militia’s command. That such tools of war are not being downplayed by Iranian or Lebanese commentators underscores the tense nature of the current status quo.
Commenting on the likely purpose of the tunnels, Arutz Sheva’s Mordechai Kedar argues that the tunnels were clearly intended by Hezbollah to bring troops covertly into Israeli territory: “Attack tunnels are intended to allow for significant numbers of armed infantry bearing weapons, artillery and supplies, to traverse them within a minimal time span, avoiding Israeli lookouts and thereby gaining the element of surprise. An underground passage grants attackers protection from Israeli bombs, while it also means that the war begins on the Israeli side of the border, in the midst of areas populated by civilians. That fact allows for sudden forays and kidnapping.”
Confronted with this new development, The Jerusalem Post editorial argues for a more aggressive stance on the part of the Israeli government: “Faced with both the ongoing influx of Iranian arms to Hezbollah – including precision-guided missiles – and the tunnel threat, including the construction of subterranean factories to produce sophisticated rockets, Israel cannot sit back.... Lebanon, which recently marked its 75th anniversary, has little to celebrate and has been unable to put together a government since the May elections. This strengthens Hezbollah’s role as the dominant force in Lebanon. It also strengthens Iran’s control of the country.... Hezbollah’s terror tunnels stretching into Israel’s North cross a red line. Israel has not only the right but the duty to act to defend itself.”
In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ron Ben Yishai pours some cold water on the idea of an imminent armed conflict, suggesting that the discovery of the tunnels may have actually pushed that possibility further back: “At present, Israeli defense officials don't foresee a military escalation in the north. While the IDF is working to expose and destroy a Hezbollah tunnel—and perhaps several tunnels—in the Metula area, the work is being done inside Israeli territory and neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese government have any cause to claim that Israel is carrying out any aggressive action against them.... Another reason that war is not expected at this stage is the fact that offensive tunnels are uncovered inside Israeli territory embarrasses the Lebanese government, Hezbollah and their Iranian patrons in the eyes of the international community.... The discovery of the tunnels can aid on the diplomatic front—and perhaps also validate military action against the main threat.”
Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff would agree if the discovery of the Hezbollah tunnels were taken in isolation, but worries that other factors may bring the conflict to a head much sooner: “The IDF’s announcement Tuesday morning of an operation against Hezbollah attack tunnels from Lebanese territory into Israel is not necessarily a clear indication of an escalation with the Shiite terror group. Except that an examination of the breadth of regional developments, including these tunnels and in particular Hezbollah’s Iran-backed factories for precision rockets, prompts a worrying conclusion: The next war between Israel and Hezbollah is already at the door. Hezbollah, in the wake of the dwindling civil war in Syria, is a stronger organization than it was before the violence erupted there seven years ago.... Israel is now facing a more dangerous enemy, trained and practiced from a prolonged ground war.”
Hezbollah and Iran are doing little to counter that narrative. If anything, commentaries and statements coming out of Lebanon and Iran seem to reinforce it. For example, Hezbollah-affiliated daily Al Manar notes the vast improvements in the accuracy of its missiles as a reason for concern for Israel: “Hezbollah has succeeded for more than a decade in surprising political and security decision-makers in Tel Aviv by imposing newly set up deterrence strategies on the Israeli regime... Each strategy served as a pivotal turning point in the ongoing conflict movements which made the enemy leaders, subsequently, change their calculations... [A] new stage of shock whose repercussions continue to have impact on Israeli media and political official sphere, is manifested in Hezbollah’s evolving tactics in improving the accuracy of its missile; therefore, posing a threat to ‘Israel’.”
Similarly, Tehran Times’s Ramin Hossein Abadian points out that recent developments in Syria on the border with Israel mean that Israel may soon find itself facing a three-front war: “The liberation of southern part of Syria from the Takfiri group by the Syrian army is frightening to the Zionists as the area is in close proximity to the Golan Heights…. In any case, if a new front opens up in the occupied Golan Heights by resistance groups and Hezbollah, there will be undoubtedly a war of attrition for the Zionists; a war that may repeat the same defeat for Zionists in southern Lebanon In 2002. The point is the Zionist regime won’t be able to fight in many fronts, as they are already involved in three fronts: one in northern occupied territories with Hezbollah, one in southern occupied territories with the Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza, and the other in the east of the occupied lands with the Syrian and Hezbollah groups.”