Israel’s military actions targeting Lebanon could be cannon fodder for the Trump administration to use in its anti-Iran campaign.
Israel’s attack on Lebanon in recent days, both on Hezbollah itself in southern Beirut and also on Palestinian positions in the east of the country are an important indicator as to the dimension of Israel’s war against its regional foes. We are entering a new phase, yes, but the drone attacks also reveal more.
Firstly, the boil has been lanced, over the question of which style Israel will adopt in Lebanon now when it targets Hezbollah weapons sites. Secondly, the extent to how far Hezbollah guides the Lebanese state in terms of military response is now no longer a rhetorical subject for journalists to mull over.
Lebanon’s servile leader takes his orders from Iran.
President Aoun had always said in many speeches that, in the event of a war with Israel, unlike in 2006, there would be a dynamic role for the Lebanese army to play with its arsenal of US kit still gleaming from the factory grease fresh out of its crates.
The recent drone “attacks” on Hezbollah of two units, one exploding in the air and the other “crashing” on the Hezbollah media office in Beirut is not the story we should obsess over. The real story is Israeli drones being fired upon by the Lebanese army, which forced the Israelis to do a sharp mid-air U-turn and head back to Israel.
These two incidents unquestionably break the mould and usher in a new era of Israel-Lebanon “tensions”, but they also show us that there is no immediate war on the horizon to fret over – which was compounded by Hezbollah’s retaliation with an anti-tank salvo which followed.
For Israel, drones will be the new weapon of choice over Lebanon and the Lebanese army could do with some clay pigeon shooting practice.
In reality, the message that Netanyahu needs to heed will reverberate through Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Washington each time the Lebanese hit one: Hezbollah and Iran have the Lebanese state, with its US military hardware, in its pocket. Expect strategic military strikes on your hardware from Hezbollah each time, which will leave many pundits in Israel asking if Netanyahu’s judgment was correct and whether the initial drone attacks were worth it.
In many ways, the Hezbollah response was inevitable as Hezbollah’s chief couldn’t contemplate the political price to pay by not responding. It would have also sent the wrong message entirely to Israel and may well have goaded Netanyahu to up the ante.
What is significant is the Lebanese state’s response.
The Lebanese army shooting at Israeli drones days earlier confirms beyond any doubt what Netanyahu is up against in Lebanon and, if anything, the drone attacks show his poker hand to be a full house militarily while Hezbollah holds four aces.
The attacks are very much an indicator of weakness and desperation in Israel’s struggle against a wide array of enemies in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Hamas in Palestine also. Add to that list the Houthis in Yemen, and you could argue that Israel has a lot on its plate at the moment and needs all the support it can get from Trump.
But is Trump listening?
Lebanon is special. This tiny country which many might argue is no longer tainted by being influenced by Iran or its proxy Lebanese ally Hezbollah – as we can say since President Aoun’s appointment now makes it full-on Iranian satellite – has a crucial second ally which protects it: Uncle Sam.
Annoyingly, for Netanyahu, it’s not only that Lebanon is one of the largest recipients of US military aid, but more significantly by far, is now more than ever an important ally of Washington.
Contrary to what many Christians in Lebanon believe – that the Trump administration doesn’t care about Lebanon, unlike Obama – in fact, energy deals and border disputes are an imperative part of Washington’s objectives in calming tensions between Israel and Lebanon.
While the Trump administration is talking about a new set of crippling sanctions on Lebanon, which stirred a flurry of tantrums between the Lebanese glitterati of DC-based commentators, it weaves an even more complicated web for itself in Lebanon by investing in energy there on both sides of the Lebanese Israeli border and issues statements in support of Lebanon.
The drone attacks, therefore, are not so much a pinnacle of Israeli military might but more a signal of frustration and inadequacy in the region. The IDF drone is very much a last-ditch attempt to inject the IDF and its leader with a mirage of geopolitical might. Don’t expect more from Israel.
Netanyahu experimented and tested the water and the foray into this new style of attacking-but-not-attacking Hezbollah is very much akin to playing a PlayStation without a broken controller.
That is not to say that the escapade did not serve him, at all. He got the results back from the lab, and now several grey areas have been clarified about the Lebanese state’s role, the technical capabilities of those drones and Hezbollah’s, once again, stoic and calm resolve in the face of a crisis.
Indeed, Netanyahu has much to learn from the Iranian proxy’s leader Hassan Nasrallah who merely commented that the attacks would not go “unnoticed”.
But given the confused and self-disparaging policy that the US has in Lebanon and the statement made on August 5 which must have irked Netanyahu, one has to wonder if these craven attacks were not actually a message to Iran and Hezbollah but more a coded cable to Washington.
In fact, although pundits claim that Netanyahu was banking on Hezbollah not ‘replying’, the tank strikes and possible deaths of IDF soldiers was a win-win for Bibi as it sends a reminder to Washington of how real the Iran threat is, as even Hezbollah’s patience isn’t limitless.
Trump now has the images to present to media in the US to show how Iran is killing Israelis.
Author: Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award-winning British journalist based in Beirut who has worked for a number of international media titles including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera as well as reporting on a freelance basis for the UK’s Daily Mail, The Sunday Times plus TRT World.