Why is Hezbollah nervous, and what’s the Israeli air force doing in Lebanon these days? The answers may have to do with Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile project.
Hezbollah recently disseminated a video clip threatening to hit targets deep in Israel with precise missiles. The campaign’s timing was not coincidental, as Israel monitors the group’s missile project with growing concern.
Hezbollah fears that Israel plans to bomb missile production sites in Lebanon shortly, intelligence blog Intellitimes wrote. The menacing video aimed to convince Israel that it’s too late to strike, as the precision project is complete. However, various sources and analysts estimate that Hezbollah is bluffing.
Missile expert Uzi Rubin says that Israel wants to demolish Hezbollah’s missile project because of its destructive strategic potential. Precision-guided missiles will turn the group into the equivalent of a state-run military with air force capabilities, he wrote recently.
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Rubin warns that if Hezbollah acquires precision missiles, it will use them at the start of a future war to devastate Israeli airbases. Israel’s air defenses will shoot down most of the incoming missiles but some will get through, he says.
Such missile offensive could severely hinder the IDF’s war efforts. This threat further encourages an Israeli strike to disable the precision project.
Missile Project a ‘Red Line’
Israel is running out of time to decide about a preemptive strike, political analyst Ben Caspit wrote last week. Precision-guided missiles will erode the IDF’s strategic edge and mark the crossing of a red line, he said.
With the missile project very high on Israel’s list of priorities, Hezbollah’s concerns about an imminent IDF strike are well-founded. Notably, reports out of Lebanon suggest heavy Israeli Air Force activity over the country in recent days, with fighter jets and spy planes spotted at various locations.
Hezbollah is also at a tight spot domestically, as Lebanon struggles with a worsening economic and political crisis. Moreover, the group’s Iranian patrons face acute financial problems, and have not yet recovered from the assassination of top military commander Qasem Soleimani.
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While Israel also faces difficulties amid the resurgent Corona pandemic, the current junction offers a unique opportunity to strike. Launching a major operation is also likelier given Israel’s recently formed unity government and broader consensus. Now, the final decision is in the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.