Hariri Is Back. Does that Mean Stability or Escalation on Israels Northern Border?

During the last two weeks, Hariri's resignation, as delivered in a speech from Saudi Arabia, raised the question of the fragile stability on Israel's northern border. The fact that he, the Lebanese Prime Minister, is back in Lebanon - is not necessarily the answer to this question. This statement needs to be analyzed, considering the various reports of Hariri's resignation in past two weeks.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]During the last two weeks, Hariri’s resignation, as delivered in a speech from Saudi Arabia, raised the question of the fragile stability on Israel’s northern border. The fact that he, the Lebanese Prime Minister, is back in Lebanon, is not necessarily the answer to this question. This statement needs to be analyzed, considering the various reports of Hariri’s resignation in past two weeks.

Last Saturday, the Kuwaiti newspaper A-Rai published an article reporting that Hezbollah has raised its level of alert throughout Lebanon and it is now on maximum alert as it has received threats from several nations and from Israel in particular. Although, according to the article, its leadership is convinced that Israel will initiate no war of any kind in either the present or the future.

Multiple reports and evaluations give expression to the fear in Lebanon, in Israel, and internationally that the political instability in Lebanon will lead to an escalation with Israel. For example, a text circulating on social media in Lebanon maintainedthat the Saudi Crown Prince, Bin Salman, recently received the map for a new military campaign along the lines of Decisive Storm (the code name for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen) directed this time against Hezbollah and the Syrian army. The plan involves preparation of 300 aircraft by the Saudi Air Force —one third of them to be operated by the air forces of Israel, the UAE, and the USA —for surprise air strikes on military sites and institutions of Hezbollah located in Syria and Lebanon, in addition to bombing sensitive sites of the Syrian regime identified as military bases of Hezbollah. According to this somewhat conspiracy-minded text, the campaign is expected to last 48 hours and to include more than 30,000 targets.

Moreover, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has directly accused Israel, by declaring after Hariri’s resignation that it was: a new Zionist–Saudi–American exercise intended to instigate tension in Lebanon and the region.”

At the same time, the Israeli press hastened to quote Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, who — in a speech delivered a few days after the resignation — suggested that Saudi Arabia had offered Israel billions of dollars in return for an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, the Israeli media refrained from conveying in Hebrew the rest of the speech, in which Nasrallah clarifies that Israel will attack Hezbollah only when itperceives that the appropriate conditions have been created, rather than when prompted by Saudi interests.

In a speech that Nasrallah delivered a few days earlier, he even stated clearly that ͞Israel does not work for Saudi Arabia, it works for the Americans… It will not go to war with Lebanon unless it can be sure that the war will be quick, decisive, and clearly won at a low cost and with great benefit.͟ With that final sentence, I am in complete agreement. In fact, on the Lebanese side, Nasrallah’s speeches presented the rationale for ruling out the possibility that Israel stood behind Hariri’s resignation.

Thus, not only is Israel not preparing an attack in the wake of Hariri’s resignation, but even Hezbollah itself sees Israel as uninterested in such a war at this time. This isdespite ostensibly considering Israel as part of a Saudi–American–Zionist–heretical axis, in collaboration with radical Sunni-Islam in Syria. This perceived contradiction, in Hezbollah’s assessment that Israel is not interested in attacking Lebanon at this point, although Hezbollah labels Israel part of an axis already active against Hezbollah, inspires the fear that the instability in Lebanon, coupled with any deterioration of the Iranian–Saudi conflict, will lead to an escalation on Israel’s northern border as well.

Such a fear, it may be noted, was shared by both sides in the aftermath of Hariri’s resignation. On the Israeli side, the IDF’s Chief of Staff gave an interview, for the first time ever, to the Saudi newspaper Elaph, in which he conveyed both deterring and soothing messages: ͞We have no intention of initiating an attack on Hezbollah, butwe will stand for no strategic threat against Israel. I am very pleased that tranquility on the border has endured for 11 years. I see no serious chance of escalation.͟Lieutenant General Eisenkot even made clear that Israel is willing to share intelligence with moderate Arab countries regarding Iran and that Israel and Saudi Arabia see eye-to-eye on the Iranian threat.

Lebanon’s Al-Jadid network even broadcasted a report that was filmed close to the border, at a distance of mere meters from the Israeli town of Metulla. The report showed everyday life in the olive harvesting season, with domestic tourism continuing as usual and with sources on the Lebanese side saying there is no fear of escalation. As an Israeli living in the Galilee, I can personally testify that I could prepare a similar report regarding the calm atmosphere on the Israeli side of the border: the tourist season and the olive harvest continue without concern.

Hariri’s resignation was a Saudi maneuver that will apparently continue to cast its shadow for a while, though Hariri has now suspended his resignation. It seems that more than the Saudis wanted to be rid of Hariri, they wanted to send a message that his appointment as Prime Minister does not reflect Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon, but that on the contrary – Hariri, the son of a prime minister who was assassinated by Hezbollah – has become (presumably against his will) a sort of fig leaf for Hezbollah’s continued ascendency inside Lebanon.

In any case, Israel has no connection at all with that Saudi–Iranian struggle, despite Israel’s openly common interest with the Saudi side. However, the mighty struggle between those two giants of the Middle East does influence Israel, and it could spark a miscalculation and escalation even though none of the sides presently wishes for such a development.

In this context, the significance of Lieutenant General Eisenkot’s remarks is that if Hezbollah already views Israel as part of an axis, the country might as well be part of an American–Saudi–Israeli axis that could at least coordinate stances in a way that would make it possible to quell Iran’s growing strength on Israel’s northern border.

Cartoon taken from: alyamanalaraby.com[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Sarit Zehavi

Sarit Zehavi

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