What sparked the latest tensions?
On April 6th, in a concerning escalation of tensions, the Israeli military reported that 34 rockets were fired from Lebanon towards Israel, with at least four landing in Israeli territory. According to the army, warning sirens were triggered in the northern Israeli towns of Shlomi and Moshav Betzet, with 25 rockets being intercepted by Israeli defence systems. This marks the first instance of rockets being fired from Lebanon into Israel since April of last year, heightening concerns about the security situation in the region.
The Israeli military retaliated with a burst of artillery fire aimed back across the border, as reported by Lebanon’s National News Agency. Although there were no immediate reports of casualties, the Lebanese report stated that Israeli artillery fired “several shells from its positions on the border” towards the outskirts of two villages, following the launch of “several Katyusha type rockets” towards Israel.
Meanwhile, on the Gaza border, Palestinian armed groups in the blockaded Gaza Strip have launched a second consecutive day of rocket attacks into southern Israel, as reported by the Israeli military.
On the 7th of April, Israeli forces retaliated against targets in Tyre, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
While the latest exchange of fire follows violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, it is the assessment of Midstone Centre that the instigation of tension in the region has been in the plans of the Iranian regime and its proxies for some time.
Israeli domestic politics & geopolitical developments have led to this
The ongoing political crisis in Israel over the proposed judicial overhaul has contributed to a lack of harmony and cohesiveness in the country, This has also affected the country’s security establishment, which poses potential implications for its national security. This internal instability was always going to be exploited by Iran and its proxies, who saw this as a great opportunity to strike against Israel at a time when the country is already grappling with internal divisions. The political crisis has also affected Israel’s standing in the international community, potentially reducing its ability to address regional security challenges.
There are growing tensions between the US and Israeli governments under Biden and Netanyahu, which marks a shift from the warm relations between Israel and the US during the Trump-Netanyahu era. This change in US policy towards Israel is part of a broader shift in the US approach to its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, as both countries reassess their security needs and the US’s willingness to support them in the face of the Iranian threat. This shift in US policy towards Iran has been viewed by some as appeasement of the Iranian regime and has led both Saudi Arabia and Israel to seek alternative solutions to the threat posed by Iran.
Because of the changes in the US approach to the region, the Iranian regime and its proxies believe that they may be able to engage Israel in line with their interests without facing significant consequences. This is because they believe that the US and its allies are less likely to take a hardline stance against Iran and its regional proxies, leaving them free to carry out attacks against Israel with relative impunity.
Recent statements from the US affirming Israel’s right to defend itself are not particularly meaningful or helpful, as they do not offer any concrete support or assistance to Israel. Additionally, some analysts have argued that any US retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxies for targeting the US or its allies’ interests in the region may be viewed as a distraction from the real US interests in the region. US regional allies would prefer that Washington adopt a more comprehensive and long-term approach to regional security that addresses the underlying factors contributing to instability and conflict, rather than solely responding to individual incidents in the short term.
How Lebanon reacted
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s statement condemning the recent rocket attack from Lebanese territory towards Israel and stressing the need to arrest those responsible is an attempt to reduce tensions and prevent any significant Israeli military operations within Lebanon. However, given that Israel has already retaliated inside Lebanon, it remains to be seen whether Mikati’s statement will be able to effectively prevent further escalation of violence between the two neighbouring countries, though he was likely aware of the high chances of an initial Israeli response inside Lebanese territory. Hezbollah is a Lebanese political and military organization that wields significant power in the country, with its own militia and a role in the government, and their presence and influence in the Lebanese government and society creates challenges for Lebanon’s dealings with Israel.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh reportedly met with heads of various Palestinian armed groups, including Islamic Jihad, in Beirut. The purpose and outcome of the meeting are not yet clear.
The discussion in Israel
The Israeli cabinet convened to discuss the escalation, including a harsh response against Hamas in Gaza, and a central part of the discussion will be the nature and scope of the response in Lebanon, including a direct response.
Importantly, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refrained from accusing any specific Palestinian organization such as Hamas or Hezbollah for the recent rocket attack from Lebanon towards Israel. He emphasized that all options are on the table for an appropriate response. Speaking on the matter, Netanyahu stated, “The internal debate in Israel will not prevent us from acting against our enemies. We will strike them wherever it will be necessary.” This statement suggests that Israel will not be deterred by any internal disagreements or debates, which is something that the Iranian regime is counting on.
Netanyahu vowed that Israel’s enemies would “pay a price for any aggression” and stressed the unity of Israeli citizens in difficult times. “The internal debate in Israel will not prevent us from acting against our enemies,” Netanyahu declared. “They will pay a price for any aggression and will discover that in moments of trial, Israel’s citizens are united.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ambiguous statement following the rocket attack from Lebanon towards Israel may be an indication that the Israeli government views the threat posed by extremist elements in Gaza and Lebanon as just one part of a larger, more complex security challenge that is highly influenced by Iran. Israel is reportedly prepared to strike any and all threats, whether they originate from Palestinian factions, Hezbollah, or Iran itself. This view was also publicly supported by Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, who has emphasized the need for a decisive response that goes beyond targeting the tentacles of the threat, and instead focuses on hitting the “head of the snake”.
While Israel is prepared for a multi-front war if necessary ⎼ which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, factions in Syria and Iran themselves ⎼ they are fully aware of the different levels of the threat posed by all of these actors. Because of this, there were disagreements between the Mossad and IDF chiefs over which targets to hit in Lebanon following the recent rocket attack on Israel. The Mossad chief reportedly argued in favour of striking both Hezbollah and Hamas, while the IDF chief argued against it, recommending that Israel should only hit Hamas. Ultimately, it appears that the IDF chief’s recommendation prevailed, with all ministers of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government reportedly voting in favour of only hitting Hamas.
While this disagreement highlights divisions in Israeli politics that can impact military operations, the Israeli military is known for its professionalism and ability to carry out operations without being affected by domestic political motives, which is why the operations were carried out smoothly, in accordance with the wishes of the IDF chief and the prime minister. Though this shows that the Iranian regime and its proxies must have thought about the divisions in Israel affecting the country’s military responsiveness.
Former Israeli Military Intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, has warned residents of South Lebanon to avoid Hezbollah military sites amid heightened tensions between Israel and Lebanon. Yadlin’s statement suggests that Israel may be considering a targeted strike against these installations and that civilians in the area should take precautions to avoid being caught in the crossfire. While the situation remains tense, Yadlin’s warning highlights the need for caution and for minimizing the risk to civilian populations. Yadlin’s warning that residents of South Lebanon should stay away from Hezbollah military sites suggests thinking in Israeli security circles that the country may be contemplating a broader military response to the attack from Lebanese territory towards Israel. Yadlin’s statement highlights the possibility of a targeted strike against Hezbollah’s military installations in southern Lebanon.
This would match Israel’s longstanding policy of striking back against those responsible for attacks against it, which includes the possibility of a targeted strike against Hezbollah’s military installations in southern Lebanon. However, any military operation in Lebanon is considered a riskier endeavour compared to striking Hamas in Gaza due to Hezbollah’s significant military strength in terms of numbers, training, and weaponry. This also explains Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi’s desire for a more calculated and cautious response. It appears that Israel is trying to calculatedly avoid a full-scale conflict with Hezbollah, despite the group’s alleged involvement in the recent rocket attack. Although Hezbollah has denied any role in the attack, Israel may be cautious of launching a direct attack against the group, as such a move could potentially garner sympathy from some international actors. As a result, Israel may opt to target other installations in Lebanon to avoid directly targeting Hezbollah. The Israeli government is well aware of the complex situation and the potential risks of military escalation and is likely to proceed cautiously in order to ensure the security of its citizens while minimizing the chances of further destabilizing the region.
Israel’s ambiguity towards Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the recent rocket attack may be a deliberate strategic move to keep all options open in terms of potential military responses. Despite Yadlin’s warning to residents of South Lebanon to stay away from Hezbollah military sites, Israel has yet to issue a statement condemning the group for the attack. While Hezbollah has denied any involvement, Israel may have intelligence suggesting otherwise and could be preparing to strike targets as a result. However, any such move would carry significant risks, given the potential for civilian casualties and the likelihood of a further escalation in the region.
However, there are many in the ruling coalition and opposition that wish to see a stronger response by Israel on Lebanese territory, while also not backing the government’s stance on the Iran threat, which seems counterproductive.
Israel’s military response & movement in bordering regions
On the 7th of April, Israeli warplanes launched a series of strikes on targets in southern Lebanon. The strikes targeted what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) described as “terrorist infrastructure belonging to Hamas.” According to reports, the strikes hit an underground weapons construction site, three weapons workshops, and an underground tunnel used by militants. The strikes were followed by reports of explosions near a Palestinian refugee camp and a village in the area.
The Israeli strikes have triggered responses not only from within Lebanon and Gaza but also from neighbouring countries such as Syria and Egypt.
Three rockets were fired from Syrian territory towards Israel. Two of the rockets crossed into Israeli territory, one was intercepted by air defence and the other fell in an open area. The IDF then retaliated by striking those launchers used to target Israel.
Reports also indicate that the Egyptian army has found and disarmed long-range rockets in the Sinai that were apparently intended to be fired towards Israel’s southernmost port city Eilat.
The Israel Defense Forces intercepted a surveillance drone, believed to be operated by Hezbollah, which had entered Israeli airspace from Lebanese territory.
These developments highlight how deeply embedded Iranian-backed proxies and jihadist groups are in countries bordering Israel, which further complicates Israel’s response to these threats.
What to expect next?
There are indications that Hezbollah may be attempting to provoke Israel into a confrontation that would benefit them. While no Lebanese forces nor Hezbollah themselves did not claim responsibility for the recent rocket attack on Israel, Hezbollah’s involvement in some capacity is suspected. The Israeli government has been ambiguous in its response, perhaps to avoid escalation and a multi-front conflict, despite internal debate. However, the risk of further clashes and provocations cannot be ruled out, and the situation could potentially escalate into something more serious. The Israeli government is keen to ensure that any confrontation happens on its own terms, and is taking measures to prepare for any eventuality.
Israel remains well-prepared for a multi-front war against groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian-backed forces. However, the increasing tensions and the inevitability of war with Iran-backed groups suggest that Israel may have to take the initiative and act on its own to protect its interests. While the US continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself, there are concerns about the current Israeli government’s domestic policies, particularly the proposed judicial reforms and far-right elements within the government. It remains to be seen what happens, but it is the assessment of Midstone Centre that there could be an escalation of operations by Israeli forces against Iran-backed groups and maybe even other key Iran-linked targets.