Throughout the last round of escalations, thousands of rockets flew into Israel from Gaza, and Israel attacked accordingly within the Strip. Rockets and UAV’s were downed left and right, some even along the country’s northern borders – and yet, Hezbollah chose to sit it out this time around.
Sarit Zehavi, CEO and Founder of Alma Center – a nonprofit and bipartisan organization dedicated to analyzing Israel’s security challenges on its northern border – told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday it seems that proxy groups of Iran, “mainly Palestinians but not necessarily only Palestinians,” were behind the rocket attacks that entered Israel from the North.
“This could be Hamas, this could be Palestinian Islamic Jihad, this could be some other Palestinian groups,” she explained. “But definitely the direction and planning came from the Iranians themselves.”
She explained that although Hezbollah has full control of ground forces in the region, it seems that this time around, “It was not within the interest of Hezbollah to carry out these attacks in a public way – in a way that everybody would know it was Hezbollah.”
Even the Hezbollah rioters who broke into Israel along the northern border were on the ground, doing relatively small actions in contrast to what was going on between Israel and Gaza “rather than getting publicly involved in rocket launching.”
Zehavi explained that there appear to be two reasons for Hezbollah’s silence: Lebanon is going through extreme economic challenges that would only be further deterred by fighting with Israel, and the current medical state of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Indeed, in his first public speech since Operation Guardian of the Walls, Nasrallah appeared to be very ill, coughing regularly. There seem to be no attempts to replace him, despite his state, Zehavi explained.
At the same time, Nasrallah during his speech suggested that Hezbollah was taken by surprise by Hamas’s initial attack on Jerusalem. Zehavi, however, has her doubts.
“I believe there was coordination beneath the umbrella of the Iranians,” she said.
“Everybody knew where this was heading. Even if you look at the meetings that were prior to the escalations and nearing the escalations between Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas – various kinds of meetings – you understand that there is constant coordination between all sides,” Zehavi said.
“Yet again, there are different interests between all sides – that’s why sometimes you see a reality that is not exactly black or white,” she explained. “It’s somewhat grey when you talk about who is accountable or responsible for rocket launching to Israel.”
She does, however, believe that Hezbollah was caught off guard by Israel’s retaliation. “I think it was surprised by the IDF’s retaliation and the fact that the IDF was willing to shoot down high buildings of some 13-15 stories,” she said. “When Hezbollah was watching this, I guess they made their own conclusions: that Israel would do the same in Lebanon. Hezbollah is definitely using these kinds of buildings in Lebanon.
“I think the current escalations proved that neither of the sides is interested in an all-out war in the northern front, but the Iranians are definitely interested in a kind of escalation or kinds of attacks against Israel that, to their assessment, would not drag the northern front into it,” Zehavi added.
“My evaluation from what Nasrallah said is that these are words he had to say. If we’ll have another escalation in the South, we need to make sure that the Iranians and Hezbollah are deterred from escalating in a way that would drag us into war.”
Regarding the newer technology, such as longer range rockets flying into Israel from the North, she said that Israel seems to be “facing this successfully.”
Zehavi, indeed, expressed a broad knowledge of the regional conflict.
When discussing the under-representation of women in the security sector, she said: “I got used to the fact that I live in a man’s world.
“When I started Alma, I think what made it a little bit different is that we didn’t only look at the military level,” she said. “It was very important for us to point the finger at how come mothers like myself are willing to put rockets in their homes. I think this question made me look at reality in a bit of a different way.
“Whenever we speak about the question of power, in this sense, I must say [that] if women are willing to be part of that, to be part of the security milieu, they can get anywhere they want,” she concluded. “No one will prevent them from doing so – they just need to be very strong and not get insulted by any sexist or sayings of anybody around them.”