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Israel on a knife edge again

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PAULA SLIER

The dramatic flare-up in tension between Beirut and Jerusalem has left many wondering who’s to blame, and more importantly, what’s next?

It started with Israeli airstrikes south of Damascus last Saturday night, killing five people, two of whom were Hezbollah members, and one an Iranian operative. A few hours later, in the early hours of Sunday morning, two drones crashed in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Hezbollah was quick to blame Israel.

According to foreign news reports, the drones targeted an Iranian-made mixer used for precision guided missiles.

It sparked a war of words.

“What happened in Syria and Lebanon … is very, very dangerous,” threatened Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

“I tell the Israeli army on the border, wait for our response, which may take place at any time on the border and beyond the border. Be prepared and wait for us,” he said.

Lebanon President Michel Aoun declared his country’s right to defend itself in what he called a “declaration of war” from Jerusalem.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the drones were a “blatant attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty” that threatened “regional stability”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the only one who tried to de-escalate the situation. He called on Nasrallah to “calm down”, while at the same time warning neighbouring countries that they would be held accountable for any attacks against Israel emanating from their territory.

It hasn’t been proven that the drones were Israeli. Had they been, it would be the first such “hostile action” by Israel in Lebanon since the 2006 war. It certainly doesn’t make sense for Netanyahu to provoke the situation right now.

What’s more, while the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took responsibility for Saturday’s airstrikes, it remained mum on the origin of the drones. That in itself doesn’t prove Israel’s innocence, as she often refuses to comment on actions she carries out in Syria.

But several Israeli experts have come forward to say that the drones, according to their models, were Iranian-made. The pressing question is if that’s true, were they part of a plot by Tehran to send armed drones into northern Israel?

The IDF certainly thinks so. It said its Saturday airstrikes in Syria were aimed at precisely that – preventing a group led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard from flying drones with explosives into the Jewish state.

The IDF identified and released photographs of the two Hezbollah members killed in Saturday’s strikes. It said they had “spent time in Iran on a number of occasions in recent years” during which “they went through specific training programmes in the [Iranian] Quds Force on operating unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive drones”.

Their goal, the IDF statement said, was to “carry out drone attacks against targets in Israel”. It confirmed it had foiled the attempt, but declined to specify how. In a tweet, all the military would admit is that it had “confused” the pro-Iranian operatives, suggesting some form of electronic warfare.

Nasrallah confirmed that the men were members of his organisation. It is their death he is calling to avenge.

He now needs to decide. Does he attack Israel or not? On the one hand, he has no genuine justification for a violent response. It’s more about saving face, protecting his honour and that of his organisation. After years of fighting in Syria, his men, while gaining experience, have suffered heavy losses and are battle-fatigued. The Lebanese government also, despite its quick condemnation of Israel, will not want to be drawn into another war with Jerusalem.

Nasrallah’s orders come from Tehran, and it’s very possible they too are not sure what to do. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been discussing a possible meeting with the United States under some conditions, suggesting that no-one seems to want to fight the war they have declared.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed support for “Israel’s right to defend itself against threats posed by the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps, and to take action to prevent imminent attacks against Israeli assets in the region.”

He made the comments during a telephone conversation with Netanyahu during the week in which Netanyahu stressed that Israel would strike Iranian targets threatening Israel wherever they were.

The latest flare-up is significant, and proves what Israel has been saying for a long time. Iran is intent on spreading its influence throughout Syria and Lebanon, and it’s likely battles will increasingly be fought using drones. The IDF says the ones it thwarted were flown into Syria from Tehran several weeks ago, along with Iranian military officials to act as advisers, and that the plan had been personally overseen by Iran’s military chief.

There have been few direct clashes between Israel and Iran in Syria. Until now. That’s likely to change.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ian beverley Reeves

    Sep 1, 2019 at 11:58 am

    ‘it is  obvious that Iran is  working to a plan to attack  Israel  on many different  fronts ,there will never be  any  solution to Palestine as they don’t want one ,  and two states  would never work ,there whole  plan is to destroy Israel  and the Jewish people ,as they have stated many times and if Iran has nuclear weapons ,which they are developing irrespective of any agreements  they will use them ,Iran is the head of the snake  and the biggest  supporter of terrorism  in the world ,but the destruction of Israel  they  main aim  .so the IDF  had better be vigilant  ‘

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