Expert: Hezbollah Organized Media Tour of Israeli Border to Show It Controls Lebanon

A Hezbollah-sponsored media tour of the Israeli-Lebanese border last week was a ploy meant to emphasize Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, an expert on the Levant wrote Monday in Tablet Magazine.

Tony Badran, a research fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, observed that Hezbollah’s presence on the border with Israel was coordinated with the Lebanese army, which receives American aid, and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). According to UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the group may not operate this far south in Lebanon. That it did so in conjunction with the Lebanese army and UNIFIL makes last week’s media tour a more “egregious” violation of 1701, Badran wrote.

Exploring possible reasons for Hezbollah’s decision to conduct the media tour, Badran observed that the Iranian proxy is effectively seeking acquiescence for its control of Lebanon’s government:

The message is specifically about the power dynamic in Lebanon and about European—as well as American—acquiescence to this dynamic. In so doing, Hezbollah quite plainly laid out for all to see its position at the head of the table, while also assigning the task of the “Lebanese government” in its interaction with the U.S. and international players. Read in this light, it becomes easier to understand the timing of the tour. It occurred while a delegation of Lebanese parliamentarians and officials were in Washington, where it held meetings at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but also on Capitol Hill and with U.S. officials. The Lebanese delegation’s goal was to plead against harsher sanctions and to rattle the can for more aid to Lebanon.

Badran ultimately warned that Hezbollah has “dropped all pretenses and laid bare the joke that is UNSCR 1701 and the ‘Lebanese government,'” and that any American policy that accepts this state of affairs would be a “complete farce.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, a former director of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, said in March that another war between Israel and Hezbollah was “only a question of time.” A week later, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot assessed that Hezbollah is building up its arsenal in Lebanon, which will bear the brunt of any future conflict between the Iranian proxy and Israel. Israeli security officials warned earlier in March that the Lebanese army would fight alongside Hezbollah in a war against Israel.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah admitted last June that Iran provides his terrorist group with everything it needs. “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Nasrallah said. “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it.”

Nasrallah’s acknowledgement of Iranian aid seems to confirm a public assurance given to him in August 2015 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the nuclear deal Iran reached with global powers presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Iran recently announced that its defense spending would increase by 90 percent in the coming year.

According to a July 2016 report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential to cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. Hezbollah has, among other things, threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people.

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained that month that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas would lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged in 2013 that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes. An Israeli defense official told The New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah bolstered the Israeli assessment.

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