Israeli Bait-and-Switch Tactics — Amidst the Resistance’s Careful Strategic Calculus

Hamas’s resilience plus the sustained international pressure as a result of the continuing Gaza massacre, ultimately may compel the Israelis to negotiate.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday’s Israeli Channel 12 news that the situation on the border with Lebanon would change. He said that should Hezbollah refuse to withdraw its forces from south of the Litani River, the Israelis would have “to take other measures to dictate a new reality”.

The Israelis are making clear threats against Hezbollah in an attempt to spur the international community toward a quick ‘diplomatic arrangement’. The US has already mandated US and French envoys to offer Lebanon substantial financial inducements to agree to the proposed buffer zone inside Lebanon. They didn’t agree; the Lebanese side said ‘no’ in double-quick time.

So, Israelis have given a ‘48 hour ultimatum’ to Lebanon to convene the tripartite committee on the border, and begin negotiations based on UNSCR 1701 for an international agreement that Hezbollah withdraws north of the Litani and that the south be de-militarised.

Resolution 1701– which was launched as a purported solution to the 2006 Lebanon war — is anything but clear-cut. It has never been implemented according to the Israeli interpretation of its provisions (that a Hezballah-free zone south of the Litani be created). And the resolution remains hotly disputed:  Hezballah never agreed, nor effectively did the Lebanese Armed Forces, nor the UN. But by August 2006, the Israeli government was anxious for any reasonable off-ramp from the war. It did not wait for ‘i’s’ to be dotted, or the ‘t’s’ to be crossed on the resolution.

The chances for a Hezballah voluntary withdrawal from south Lebanon, in any case, are a clear zero.

And Hanegby knows it. But Defence Minister Galant has stated publicly that he wants Israeli civilians displaced from northern Israel in the wake of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah following the 7 October events, to be able to return to their homes in northern Israel in January.

The residents’ leaders, however, have stated categorically that they won’t go — no way will they live next door to a border fence with Hezballah plainly visible on the other side. Only with Hezballah ‘gone’  will they consider a return, they said.

Therefore, the likelihood is that the Israelis will be the one to take military action to try to change the status quo in respect to Hezbollah. Indeed, Galant has been pressing for military action against Hezbollah from the outset of the Gaza confrontation (as the latter offered an unprecedented window of opportunity to weaken or to destroy Hezbollah, Gallant claimed).

Western main-stream media suggests that the timing is linked to Team Biden’s pressure on the Israeli Cabinet to complete its military action in Gaza in January, but this analysis possibly accords too much importance to the White House ability to force Netanyahu to comply with its dictates. The Israeli Lobby has major influence in the US Congress, and the latter will support Israeli interests over those of the White House. It would be a courageous (foolhardy) Administration that takes on the Lobby — frontally.

Netanyahu understands this better than most: He has often boasted that the US is ‘easily manipulated’, and that he is the one who knows best how to do it.

No — the timing is more likely linked to concerns about how to sell the Israeli army’s ‘achievements’ as a success to the Israeli public, who are beginning to doubt that Hamas is anywhere near to defeat — and are beginning to doubt too, that bombing Palestinian civilians is putting pressure on Hamas to release more hostages; rather it is seen as risking more hostage lives.

The inept Israeli military’s attempt to portray rounded-up Palestinian civilians, stripped to their underwear, as surrendering Hamas soldiers, only reinforces public suspicions that Hamas forces remain largely undamaged.

If no deal is reached during this period through December-January 2024 to return more Israeli hostages; if there is no mass surrender of Hamas forces; if no members of the organization’s senior command are killed — will Israeli public opinion accept that the destruction in Gaza (with its attendant damage to Israeli image) marks an achievement? Will it be considered a success?

Rather, Hamas’s resilience plus the sustained international pressure as a result of the continuing Gaza massacre, ultimately may compel the Israelis to negotiate — and eventually reach a (costly) deal with the Palestinian movement.

So, perhaps a switch to the northern front might take some pressure off Gaza — as Akhbar Ahmad notes in the Huffington Post:

“Analysts believe the Israeli government could count on [attacking Hizbullah] to distract from their controversial Gaza operation, which has seemingly had little major success in weakening Israel’s enemies” … “This is definitely Israel testing the waters, and they are seeing, ‘How will the international community react?’” [one] analyst said; “It’s very clear that there is a plan, and the groundwork is being prepared for implementation”.

And with the Israelis in a two-front war, how could Washington possibly even think to restrict munitions supplies as a form of political leverage over the Israeli Cabinet? Recall that Israeli policy in Gaza and in the north will enjoy overwhelming public support — according to recent Israeli polls. The US Congress will know that.

For the ‘Resistance axis’, a switch to Hezbollah is expected. Just as the Israeli reaction to 7 October was expected; Israeli failure to defeat Hamas in Gaza was expected; and likely, the subsequent switch to the Israelis taking military action to try to change the status quo with respect to Hezbollah is expected, too.

This careful Resistance calculus underlines that Hamas and its allies have a strategy whose steps up the escalatory ladder are co-ordinated and proceed by consensus, eschewing impulsive reactions to events that might plunge the region into an all-out war — a destructive war that none of the ‘front principals’ wish to see.

From the Resistance perspective, this ‘switch’ might be a welcome development: It would mean the ‘wider war’ against the Israelis will be moving up a rung on the escalatory ladder, since it is the Israelis ‘taking measures to (try to) dictate a new reality’ on the northern border.—-amidst-the-resistance-s-c

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