Since the Israeli raid on Damascus, high levels of tension have prevailed on both sides of the border between Lebanon and Israel. In the past few days, this tension has become more subtle.
For its part, Hezbollah has imposed high alert in its hidden military bases. Similarly, Israel has intensified sorties by reconnaissance aircraft over southern Lebanon and areas farther to the north.
The fact of the matter is, mobilization on both sides had started 12 hours prior to the Israeli raid. Advanced Hezbollah positions had detected unusual military activity by the Israeli troops deployed on the joint border between Lebanon, Israel and Syria, known as the Arqoub area.
During the 48 hours that followed the raid, tension became evident in the military movement of both sides. On the Israeli side, mock raids were conducted in the Arqoub area. In the eastern sector in the Lebanese border area, Israeli soldiers trespassed the "technical line" and conducted up-close military surveillance tactics.
From a Lebanese standpoint, the Israeli forces’ trespassing of the technical line is a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, while the Israelis believe that it is their right to move within its perimeter.
Initially, the repeated wars between Lebanon and Israel led to the demarcation of a number of borderlines between them. Following the 1948 war, the armistice line was established. After the July 2006 war, a new line called the Blue Line was created slightly further into Lebanon from the armistice line. Between these two lines, the United Nations UNIFIL forces established the so-called technical line, which is a sovereign vacuum zone between Lebanon and Israel. The area within the technical line, which Lebanon considers as illegal for the Israelis to cross, is a scene of almost daily skirmishes relating to UN Security Council Resolution 1701. This area is supervised by the UNIFIL forces deployed in the Lebanese area overlooking it, stretching from the border with Israel to the Litani river in the north.
The current tension — albeit latent since last Wednesday on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border, continuing up to Israel’s northern border with Syria — is reminiscent of the tension that prevailed during the month of July in 2006 following the capture of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, which led to the outbreak of the 33-day war.
Hezbollah has its own analysis of the Israeli raid on Jamraya, which establishes a connection between the raid and an Israeli agenda, through the circumstances that preceded, accompanied and followed it:
Firstly, the raid came just days after a senior official in Iran warned that any "external military attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Tehran." From the point of view of Hezbollah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to provoke Tehran by putting Iranian credibility in the eyes of the Syrian regime and the West to the test, aiming to "implicate the West, especially Washington, in an early war with Tehran." Netanyahu may have wanted to drag Syria into a retaliation against Israel, which would have given the latter justification to expand the sphere of tension. This would in turn provoke Tehran to take action against Israel, allowing Netanyahu to launch a strategic strike against Iran to prompt U.S. involvement in the would-be confrontation.
Secondly, Hezbollah seems to assume that the Israeli raid on Damascus was coordinated with Washington, in order to involve Hezbollah’s arms in international escalation aimed at toppling the Syrian regime, or the U.S.-Russian settlement should its current signs and indicators be realized. In other words, Washington is the opposite of Tel Aviv. It does not want to see military reactions to the raid as it does not want to amend its Iranian nuclear file agenda.
However, it agrees with Israel that a conclusive military or political solution to the Syrian crisis should address the issue of Hezbollah’s arms by "fabricating a connection between Hezbollah’s arms and the Syrian regime" and considering that "a regime change is objectively linked to the disarmament of Hezbollah."
Thirdly, Hezbollah seems to believe that the Israeli raid paved the way for and increased the likelihood of a possible outbreak of a regional war resulting from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis. According to Hezbollah, Israel will repeat its aerial bombardment of targets in Syria under the pretext that they are convoys transferring weapons to Hezbollah. Certain political calculations may have made a Syrian response to the raid on Jamraya not an urgent priority. However, it's unlikely that a second attack by Israel would not elicit a strong response [from Syria], which would drag the region into a fierce regional war.
Hezbollah sources talk about two expected scenarios in the event of a repeated Israeli raid on Syria:
First, a response by Syria that may develop into missile warfare between Israel and Syria.
And secondl, an expansion of this war into a complete regional war involving Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and an escalation in the Gaza Strip
So far, Hezbollah seems to believe that the tension that followed the early raid on Wednesday [Jan. 30] is still controlled by all sides, even though the situation remains fragile and may carry surprises. However, Lebanese sources believe that a Syrian-Iranian response to the raid on Jamraya will take place, not directly, but rather in the form of a harsh warning message to Israel. The sources do not rule out the possibility of rockets from the Gaza Strip falling on sensitive targets in Israel. This remains the most appropriate possibility for Tehran and Damascus, since Gaza is the least costly front for both, and the most sensitive for Israel.
Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse, head of the Lebanese Institute for Studies and Publications, a writer for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict and has worked for the Palestinian Research Center.