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Israeli airstrikes against Lebanon are a dramatic shift in policy – analysis

CM 05/08/2021

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The Israel Air Force striking against targets in south Lebanon on Wednesday night mark a shift in policy by the government of Naftali Bennett, who has pushed a more aggressive approach against Iran and its proxies.
The airstrikes, the heaviest since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, were in retaliation for three rockets that were fired at the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. 
Following the airstrikes, the IDF fired some 100 artillery shells and warned that “attacks will continue and will even intensify in the face of terror attacks against the State of Israel and its citizens.”

Several rockets have been launched at Israel from south Lebanon in the 15 years since the war, but there have been five instances of rocket fire in just the past three months. 
None of the recent projectiles were launched by Hezbollah which has full control in south Lebanon. Without naming a group, Israeli defense officials blame Palestinian militants in the area.  
It is said that no one blinks in south Lebanon without Hezbollah knowing about it, so how could Iran’s largest and strongest proxy organization be left in the dark about the plans of this Palestinian group?
Hezbollah either gave tacit consent to the rocket cell to fire at Israel, or the chaos that is raging in Lebanon is also affecting the group and other militant cells in the south can do whatever they want with no ramifications. 
Regardless of whoever is behind the rocket fire, Israel holds Lebanon responsible. 
“We will not allow rocket fire… no matter by who and no matter the reason. The government of Lebanon bears full responsibility for any aggression emanating from its territory,” the IDF said in a statement.
The IDF has responded in a guarded manner to the last four rounds of rocket fire by shelling the border with artillery shells. It was reminiscent of how the IDF has acted against Hamas in the Gaza Strip when it was trying to prevent a deterioration with the terror groups that control the enclave. 
But the airstrikes on Thursday morning were a message not only to Hezbollah but to the Palestinian groups responsible for the attack that Israel was not going to let its northern border become like the one with Gaza, where Hamas launched thousands of rockets with almost impunity.
Whoever fired the rockets is also likely testing Bennett’s government who, as defense minister under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called to increase Israel’s war-between-wars campaign against both Iran and Hezbollah. 
While the IDF is not in favor of preemptive strikes in Lebanon against Hezbollah, members of Israel’s security cabinet have pushed for such actions in the past.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar in 2018 told The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference that the window of opportunity for striking the group’s precision missile project was closing and that Jerusalem should prevent this.
“I call for a preemptive strike against precision-missile factories in Lebanon and other strategic threats that Hezbollah is developing, and I will back up and stand by such a decision if it will be taken,” he said. Because, “if Hezbollah will achieve such capabilities, they will cause us very significant damage. This is a clear red line.”
Admitting that a preemptive strike would lead to a significant retaliation, Saar said that Israel would “pay a much heavier price in the next round of confrontation if we will not act.”
And despite a clear shift in strategy along its northern border, Israel isn’t going to carry out a preventive strike against the terror army. Not yet.
Because Israel knows that the retaliation will cause an all-out war, not only in the north but on all of its fronts. Just look at what happened during the fighting against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in May. 
Despite the bombastic statements by Israeli politicians, rocket fire by Palestinian groups, and threats posed by Hezbollah’s arsenal, Jerusalem has offered aid several times to its northern neighbor, one that it officially remains at war with.
As the group fired into Israel, Lebanon marked a year since the deadly blast in Beirut port that killed over 200 people. 
Since that disaster which brought to the fore the the decades-old stalemate between the country’s rival factions, has been falling deeper and deeper into an economic, political and social black hole.
More than half the population is now living below the poverty line, with barely enough money to buy basic necessities, including food and medicine and violence has become routine at gas stations, banks, pharmacies and grocery stores.
On Wednesday, as thousands of people marched in Beirut to mark the somber anniversary, security forces used tear gas and tried to disperse a group that tried to march towards the parliament building. 
Due to the tragic circumstances in Lebanon, the IDF does not think that Hezbollah is looking to attack Israel but it is prepared for the scenario that smaller events could lead to a larger outbreak of violence because as Lebanon falls apart, Hezbollah and its arsenal nevertheless remain a top concern for Israel.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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