Nadav Pollak writes: In recent weeks Israel and Hizballah continued a time-honored tradition that tends to flare up in the hot months of summer: exchanging harsh words and threats regarding what each side will do to the other in the next war. These are not empty threats. Each side has the ability to inflict tremendous damage on the other. But even though both sides are ready for a war, neither Israel nor Hizballah wants one now. The main purpose of their heated rhetoric is the maintenance of deterrence and alertness. However, a recent development might raise the temperature even more.
In a speech at the Herzliya Conference on June 22, Israel’s head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, basically confirmed prior reports in Arab media that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is working to establish an independent weapons industry in Lebanon focused on advanced missiles. This worrying development reportedly had become the focus of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli cabinet in recent weeks, with some wondering if there will be a point at which Israel will need to execute a preemptive strike in Lebanon that might spark a war.
In recent years Israel attacked numerous arms shipments on their way to Hizballah. These advanced arms shipments reportedly included anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. Some of these missiles are accurate and can hit strategic sites in Israel, such as military bases and important civilian infrastructure. The Israeli prime minister and minister of defense time and time again said such capabilities in the hands of Hizballah would be a red line and insisted that Israel will act to prevent the flow of advanced weapons to the militant group. According to some estimates, Israel was able to destroy 60 percent of these advanced arms shipments. This might be cause for celebration, but it seems that these airstrikes changed something in Iran’s thinking.
Israeli media reported this week that the IRGC is pushing for a Hizballah-controlled advanced weapons industrial base because this would make Israel’s interdiction operations obsolete. Tehran likely hopes that Israel will avoid attacking Hizballah in Lebanon, fearing that such a direct attack might lead to war. As such, the closer the production line is to the customer, the better.
Iran’s calculus has some merit. It appears that Israel and Hizballah have an unspoken understanding: As long as Israel does not attack Hizballah on Lebanese soil and its attacks do not result in Hizballah casualties, the organization usually chooses not to retaliate. [Continue reading…]