The IDF Northern Command warned this weekend there is a “reasonable possibility” of a military confrontation with Lebanon’s Iranian proxy, Hezbollah in the near future.
US intelligence is also warning that Hezbollah has changed deployment of its forces in the past 10 days and is preparing for military action, according to the Hebrew-language Ma’ariv newspaper.
The IDF report warned that Hezbollah is losing support and has been subject to severe criticism in Lebanon, raising the need for the terrorist group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, to re-establish his credibility, Israel’s Channel 12 News reported.
The Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance has been undermined, with the report warning that Nasrallah may attempt to retrieve that credibility by going to war.
Reaching for Relevance Via Israel-Lebanon Maritime Talks
The report comes as Lebanon and Israel move closer to reaching an agreement on a mutual maritime border.
Nasrallah has been trying to beef up his relevance by threatening Israel over a disputed area that includes the Karish and Qana natural gas fields.
The Iranian proxy has a significant presence in Lebanon’s parliament, but has lost some of its popularity with those threats, which many Lebanese fear could jeopardize a deal that could reboot the country’s crashing economy.
US energy envoy Amos Hochstein — who is brokering those talks — was in Israel on Thursday and met with Israel’s National Security Adviser, Eyal Hulata, and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz.
Hochstein then held a rapid round of talks on Friday in Lebanon, beginning with President Michel Aoun and continuing with Lebanese Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab, General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Before departing from Beirut airport, Hochstein told reporters that he is “very hopeful, but more work needs to be done.”
Maritime border talks focused on separating the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean have been taking place sporadically since 2011.
The UK-based Energean company licensed by Israel to extract natural gas from the Karish field said in a statement on Thursday the “Karish project is on track to start production within weeks.”
The announcement comes despite a warning from Lebanon’s Iranian proxy, the Hezbollah terrorist organization, that it will attack Israel if gas extraction begins prior to the successful conclusion of talks on the disputed boundary.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in August that any attack on Israel’s energy assets would not be tolerated and could ignite a conflict.
Further progress on the issue could be complicated by the fact that Lebanon will hold a presidential election next month – and Israel faces its own national elections the month after that, on November 1.