In the past two weeks, Israeli security forces have intercepted two attempts to smuggle explosives into Israel. An Iranian fingerprint on these efforts was evident. In the first case, which was reported on August 24, Israeli Arab citizens were caught with Claymore-type explosives in the central Israeli city of Lod. Security forces identified a direct link to Hezbollah and an attempt to recruit Israeli citizens for the task of smuggling the explosives and transferring them to terror cells or terrorists in Israel.
In the second case, reported on August 27, two large explosives were caught during an attempt to smuggle them from Jordan into Israel. It remains unclear whether the explosives arrived from Iran via Syria or Iraq.
The fact that two attempts to smuggle explosives originating from Iran were caught in a short period of time raises the question: How many smuggling efforts were not caught?
The smuggling route stretching from southern Syria through Jordan has been well-known to Israeli security forces for many years. It involves exploiting drug-smuggling routes that also involve Syrian authorities. The Jordanians combat this daily, seeing Iranian and Hezbollah smuggling efforts as a threat to their national stability. A few months ago, a Jordanian attack took place on drug production sites in Syria.
We published a detailed report two years ago on the drug industry in southern Syria, pointing out that Hezbollah might be digging tunnels along the Jordanian-Syrian border for these smuggling activities. The connection between drug and weapon smuggling has a long history.
The recent incidents demonstrate that these weapons are not only used for crime but also for terrorist activities. All of this is part of a larger project by Iran to establish control in the northern Middle East, presenting a new security challenge for Israel. We assess that not only explosives and guns but also rocket parts and components for more advanced weapons are being smuggled into Israel and the West Bank.
These incidents, along with recent provocations and terror attacks on the Lebanese border and rising terror from the West Bank, reinforce the perception that Iran is working full-throttle to realize its vision of creating multiple arenas against Israel. Iran’s support for terror infrastructure, in terms of money, weapons, and ideology, continues to flow despite Western sanctions.
There is still a gap between the Iranian vision of multiple fronts against Israel and its actual implementation. Ongoing discussions among different factions—Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Iran—are evident. Recent rounds of fighting in Gaza and Jenin showed that Hezbollah’s leader, Nasrallah, is not in any hurry to sacrifice Hezbollah for the Palestinian factions. Nonetheless, he is successfully creating pretexts for escalating tensions on the northern border, where a loss of control could potentially lead to a multi-front conflict.
The big question is: What are the restraining factors? Whenever I am at the border, I wonder why, despite all the recent provocations and tensions, life continues as usual. Traveling to the North is safe for both Israeli and foreign tourists, and the Israeli government’s threats or warnings against Hezbollah have little impact on our daily lives. Is “the big attack” not happening because it failed or because Hezbollah is not really interested in carrying it out?
Several potential restraints can be considered:
Firstly, there is the issue of Lebanese gas. A gas drilling rig has arrived in Lebanon this month and has begun exploration. Soon, we will know whether Lebanese gas can create a new deterrence equation. If gas is discovered, this could mean that Lebanon will have something to lose, and this might create new pressure on Hezbollah to avoid risk-taking. Regardless of the results of the gas exploration, Hezbollah, through its allies in the Lebanese government, is already preparing to lay its hands on the profits.
Secondly, after the agreement reached on the maritime border, the parties are now entering negotiations on the land border.
This issue is much more complex than the maritime border because the UN essentially requires Israel to abandon Israeli citizens living north of the Blue Line in the village of Ghajar.
If Israel withdraws from northern Ghajar and the residents remain there, Hezbollah could harm them. Experience from the maritime border episode shows that Lebanon will not seek a compromise and that Hezbollah will threaten war to deliver achievements in the negotiations for Lebanon. Nasrallah has already clarified that “the resistance” is part of the campaign.
Regarding the internal Lebanese arena, we are seeing the ongoing political and economic crisis and the apparent awakening of Christian elements against Hezbollah.
Still, it is currently impossible to point to this as a restraint, and perhaps it is even a catalyst for escalation, in the sense that Hezbollah will feel that it has nothing to lose.
Either way, this week has proven that decision-makers at the military and political echelons in Israel understand that the Iranians are pushing for another crisis in the Middle East.
Yesterday, during his meetings at the UN, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that Iran is pushing Hezbollah to act in the north.
During this critical week, Israel is investing efforts in the international arena with regard to the renewal of the UNIFIL mandate on August 31, attempts to influence American-Iranian talks, and building an extensive network of relations between Israel and other countries in the region and the world.