A cross-border military escalation between Israel and Lebanon will probably continue sporadically over the coming days.
This assessment was first issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 6 August 2021.
In a significant step, Hezbollah said on 6 August that it fired ‘dozens’ of rockets into northern Israel following Israeli airstrikes into southern Lebanon. It has rarely claimed such incidents in recent years. But no one in Israel was hurt, and Hezbollah’s intervention appears to have been primarily reactive since it followed tit-for-tat fire between other militants and Israeli forces. It remained centred on the immediate border area (around 10km north and south). On current indications, we do not assess that a wider conflict is unlikely.
The scenario that played out ahead of the 2006 war, when a raid by the group escalated into a full-blown conflict in Lebanon, continues to loom large over cross-border incidents like these. But limited armed confrontations in the border regions have occurred fairly frequently since, without leading to a conflict. And in this instance, it was Palestinian militants who appeared to fire the first shots, by launching three rockets into Israel. There are several triggers that we monitor for as we assess that they would bring a high risk of a broader conflict spreading beyond the immediate border region. These include:
- Israeli civilian casualties, particularly if they are the result of cross-border raids from Lebanon (rather than from the Golan heights in Syria).
- Israeli air strikes, drone or rocket attacks on civilians or Hezbollah personnel outside of both the Israeli and Syrian border regions of Lebanon, particularly in major cities.
Political instability in Lebanon and its involvement in the Syrian war have weakened Hezbollah’s finances and manpower, while its domestic popularity has also waned. Israeli military intelligence assessments, circulated among media outlets earlier this year, outlined that while Hezbollah is intent on engaging in limited bouts of cross-border exchanges, it is not seeking a conflict. We similarly continue to assess that a sustained conflict with Israel is probably not in Hezbollah’s interests in the coming year at least.
Image: Israeli self-propelled howitzers fire towards Lebanon following rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on 6 August 2021. Photo by Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images.