From May to August, Israel came under fire six times from southern Lebanon. The responsibility for other provocations was attributed to Palestinian groups that are also present in Lebanon. At the same time, the terrorist organization Hamas released incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, which provoked forest fires in southern Israel. Iran is putting pressure on Israel and the United States in the hope of getting them to make concessions of interest to it.
Objectives of Iran's provocations
Provocations by Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists coincided with the inauguration of Iranian conservative President Ebrahim Raisi. With their help, Raisi demonstrated strength to the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He made it clear that he is ready to act tougher than his predecessor, the reformer Hassan Rouhani, if Israel does not make concessions on the Palestinian issue, including the end of the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank and the transfer of Jerusalem to Palestinian control. Actually, at the end of July, Hamas issued an ultimatum to the new Israeli authorities demanding an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip and promised to use any means to end the "Israeli occupation", which implies the presence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Israel's control over Jerusalem.
Also, with the help of provocations, Tehran is seeking from Israel an end to air strikes in Syria and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the territory of the country, which it considers to be its close regional partner. Since 2011, the Israeli Air Force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria to prevent the permanent presence of Iranian military forces at its borders and to prevent the supply of weapons from Iran to Lebanon for Hezbollah. One of the last bombing raids took place at the end of July in the Aleppo province.
Iran has demonstrated its readiness to expand the front of terrorist activities against Israel and involve the Lebanese Shiites. Last week, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for shelling Israeli positions for the first time since the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006. Periodically rockets are launched towards Israel from Syrian territory. Raisi supported massive shelling of Israel from the Gaza Strip this year (Operation Sword of Quds). The inauguration of the Iranian president was attended by Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, Hezbollah deputy general secretary Naim Qassem and Islamic Jihad general secretary Ziyad al-Nahla. Iran has the ability to bomb Israel from three directions at once.
Raisi intends to smooth over differences with Hamas for the sake of pressure on Israel. After his inauguration, he promised to continue to support Hamas. After the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011, relations between Hamas and Iran deteriorated, as they supported different sides of the conflict: the Iranians - the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and the Palestinians - the opposition. Hamas has supported Saudi Arabia in a conflict with the Iran-sponsored Shiite group Ansar Allah. For a while, Iran has minimized funding for the organization. Iran and Hezbollah donated technology to Hamas to make missiles, drones, explosive devices, supply terrorists with weapons and train Palestinian suicide bombers. In 2019, Hamas received $ 30 million from Iran every month.
One of the goals of the provocations of Hezbollah and Hamas is to "take the weak" of the new Israeli government led by Bennett. It is in Raisi's interests to find out with whom he will have to deal in Israel, to test his adversary for compliance and strength. Iranians are accustomed to dealing with the leader of the conservative Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocated the preservation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and convinced the US leadership to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, and Jerusalem as its capital. The former Israeli prime minister has repeatedly conducted military operations to destroy the infrastructure of terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas believes that Bennett's government lacks political experience and is torn apart by contradictions. The ruling coalition in the Knesset disagrees on the Palestinian issue. If the current prime minister and leader of the ultra-conservative party Yamina supports Israel's annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, then the leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in 2013-2014. defended the idea of evacuating some of the Jews living there and freezing the construction of new facilities for the sake of peace with the Palestinians. The leader of the Raam Arab Minority Party, Masoud Abbas, proposes to make Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state.
Raisi's coming to power in Iran will not help stabilize relations with Israel, since his position is a reflection of the sentiments of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali-Khamenei. He does not recognize Israel's right to exist and calls on Arab countries not to normalize relations with this country. Conservatives now control all branches of government in Iran.
The Iranians are sending certain signals to US President Joe Biden. The attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel came after US State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Iran to return to negotiations in Vienna on a nuclear deal as soon as possible. Although Raisi intends to seek the lifting of American sanctions through diplomatic means, he made it clear to the Americans that he would not take on any additional obligations besides limiting the missile program, including stopping sponsoring terrorists. Perhaps Raisi is counting on forcing Biden to force the Israeli government to make concessions on the Palestinian issue in the interests of Iran in exchange for a return to compliance with the restrictions of the nuclear program. At least for now, Iran has shown the United States that the Palestinian issue remains a priority for it.
Continuing the Netanyahu tradition, the Bennett government responded to the provocations of the Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists with shelling and airstrikes against their positions in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. Despite ideological differences, Israeli conservatives, centrists and liberals act in the same way in defense and counter-terrorism issues. Raisi should not underestimate Bennett, who criticizes the nuclear deal and is confident that Israel can act alone against Iran.
The power block in his government was headed by competent officers with experience of participation in hostilities. General Beni Gantz, former chief of staff of the IDF and former commander of the Northern Military District, is serving as Defense Minister. He took part in the First Lebanon War, led the Israeli special forces during the evacuation of ethnic Jews from Ethiopia (Operation Solomon). While working in the General Staff, he was involved in countering the nuclear threat from Iran. After the attack off the coast of Oman on the tanker Mercer Street, used by the Zodiac Maritime firm of Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, Gantz stated that it was time to use military force against Iran. It is difficult to judge how realistic this is, because the path for Israeli military aircraft into Iranian airspace is not close and they cannot do without refueling.
The current chief of the IDF General Staff, General Aviv Kochavi, fought the battles of both Lebanese wars, suppressed Palestinian uprisings, and took part in six military operations in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Bennett also fought in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and ran the Defense Ministry in Netanyahu's cabinet. There are people in power in Israel who know firsthand what war is and know how to deal with Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists. It is unlikely that it will come to ground operations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, given their cost. Economic losses in the context of the coronavirus pandemic are not conducive to this.
Most likely, the Bennett government will focus on destroying terrorist infrastructure with airstrikes. The Second Lebanon War, which claimed the lives of 121 Israeli soldiers and over 1,000 Lebanese civilians, is unpopular in Israeli society. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed to finally and irrevocably knock Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. Bennett is unlikely to make concessions to Iran on issues of interest to it. Perhaps Israel's position on the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank will change after 2023, when the post of Prime Minister, according to the rotation agreements, will be taken by Yair Lapid.
UN paper tiger
The resumption of shelling from the territory of southern Lebanon testifies to the questionable effectiveness of the armed UN peacekeeping contingents. Since 1978, the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission has been operating in Lebanon, for which activities up to $ 500 million is allocated annually. One of the tasks of its peacekeepers is to assist the central government of Lebanon in restoring control over the southern part of the country.
In fact, South Lebanon is teeming with terrorists, and UNIFIL has done nothing to prevent rocket attacks. UN peacekeepers are simply observing and reporting incidents that have occurred. The government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has a reputation as a protégé of Hezbollah, washed its hands. Therefore, Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, in his letter to the UN Security Council, blamed the Lebanese government for the shelling.
Israel will not find support in the UN Security Council, where the permanent representatives of Russia and China will not vote for resolutions on Iran. In early August, Defense Minister Beni Gantz announced that Iran would be able to create a nuclear bomb in the next 10 weeks and called on the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Israel has to use military force in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in the face of inaction of the international community.
Therefore, opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran insist on binding the Ayatollah regime with obligations of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Middle East countries and an end to sponsoring terrorist organizations. The UN peacekeeping mission does not guarantee a ceasefire in the conflict zone and the implementation of the peace plan. The recent shelling of Israel from southern Lebanon is proof of this. Therefore, the hopes of some Ukrainian politicians like ex-President Petro Poroshenko for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping contingent in Donbas are not justified.