Spotlight on Terrorism: Hezbollah, Lebanon and Syria/دراساة مطولة بالإنكليزية تتناول التطورات الأخيرة على الحدود اللبنانية والإسرائيلية من مركز مايير اميت للمعلومات الإستخباراية والإرهابية تحت عنوان: أضواء على الإرهاب، حزب الله ولبنان وسوريا
دراساة مطولة بالإنكليزية تتناول التطورات الأخيرة على الحدود اللبنانية والإسرائيلية من مركز مايير اميت للمعلومات الإستخباراية والإرهابية تحت عنوان: أضواء على الإرهاب، حزب الله ولبنان وسوريا
Spotlight on Terrorism: Hezbollah, Lebanon and Syria The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center/July 23/2023
Overview Click Here to read the full document in PDF format
This past week the tension along the Israeli-Lebanese border continued: Hezbollah and its affiliates continued provocative actions along the border (the Blue Line), including on the Israeli side. In an exceptional incident, IDF surveillance cameras installed along the border fence were ripped out. A correspondent for al-Manar TV issued a video showing three figures, apparently Hezbollah operatives, climb a communications tower while waving the organization’s flag and steal the cameras. The IDF acknowledged the malfunction and installed new surveillance cameras. UNIFIL and the United States made attempts to defuse the situation. A Hezbollah-affiliated correspondent published a video allegedly showing the IDF Chief of Staff and other senior officers visiting the northern border.
Hezbollah issued a video of its operatives simulating an attack on an Israeli post.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah secretary general, gave a speech about Hezbollah’s ideology, rife with anti-Semitic motifs and propaganda.
The Lebanese government demanded Israel withdraw to the 1923 borders (agreed upon by the British and French mandates).
The Lebanese government withdrew its conditions for renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, after seeking to reduce the agency’s powers in a way that would serve Hezbollah. The about-face was most likely the result of international pressure.
Lebanon’s presidential crisis continues, and so far no candidate has a majority.
Lebanon harshly criticized the EU Parliament for its statement regarding the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and their return to Syria.
Continued tension on the Israeli-Lebanese border
This past week tensions remained high along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Hezbollah operatives and affiliates continued provocations along the border (the Blue Line), including crossing over into Israeli territory. Some of the provocations were carried out or accompanied by Lebanese media personnel, led by correspondents from al-Manar TV, al-Mayadeen and al-Jadeed, all affiliated with the organization and who may also have engaged in gathering intelligence on Israel. The events were the following:
On July 14, 2023, IDF surveillance cameras along the border fence were ripped out by three Hezbollah operatives or local residents acting for the organization. Documented by Ali Shoeib, an al-Manar TV correspondent, the event circulated on social media and was widely covered by the Lebanese media outlets. The reporter, who took a photo holding one of the cameras, claimed the Israeli cameras violated the privacy of Lebanese civilians and dismantling them solved the problem (Twitter account @alishoeib1970, July 14, 2023).
The IDF spokesman called it a “mishap,” adding that the incident was under investigation and changes would be made according to the results. Major General Uri Gordin, commander of the Northern Command, admitted the fence had been damaged and the cameras destroyed, and the amount of time that passed before the incident was discovered was a technical fault (IDF spokesman and the Israeli media, July 16, 2023). According to later reports, new cameras were installed at the site (Lebanese TV, July 18, 2023) and the IDF continued fortifying the border (photojournalist Ali Shoeib’s Twitter account, July 18, 2023).
On July 14 and 16, 2023, Lebanese residents went to the border near Metulla and threw rocks at IDF soldiers. The soldiers used riot dispersal measures and fired shots into the air to deter them (al-Manar, July 16, 2023).
On July 16, 2023, Qassem Hashem, a member of the Lebanese Parliament, was superficially injured by IDF riot dispersal measures while being interviewed near the village of Bustarah in the Har Dov area, where he claimed the Shebaa Farms were “in Lebanese territory” (al-Jadeed, July 16, 2023).
On July 18, 2023, Ali Shoeib reported that the IDF attacked local residents [sic] with smoke grenades near Kafr Shuba (according to Shoeib, one Lebanese farmer from the village). He claimed the incident occurred when UNIFIL forces were examining the route of the IDF border security fence (@alishoeib1970 Twitter account, July 19, 2023).
On July 20, 2023, Ali Shoeib released a video he claimed showed the Chief of Staff and other senior IDF officers on the northern border on July 18, 2023 (@alishoeib1970 Twitter account, July 20, 2023).
assem al-Qadri, mayor of Kafr Shuba, said that the municipality had begun paving a road near the fence in front of the village. The objective was to facilitate the movement of civilians and provide a response to Israeli excavations and clearings which had changed the routes of local roads (al-Akhbar, July 20, 2023). He claimed the territory was Lebanese according to UN Security Council Resolution 425 (al-Mayadeen, July 20, 2023). A correspondent for the Lebanese daily newspaper al-Akhbar claimed that according to information he had received, the Lebanese army was on standby and would respond with gunfire if Israel attacked civilians or the bulldozers paving the road (Abdallah Kamah’s Twitter account, July 20, 2023).
Attempts to defuse the tension
International actors mainly UNIFIL and the United States, tried to defuse the situation. Candice Ardell, deputy director of UNIFIL’s information bureau, called on both sides to exercise restraint (al-Nashra, July 16, 2023). UNIFIL also tried to convene a meeting on July 17, 2023, chaired by the UNIFIL commander and with the participation of representatives of the Lebanese army, the IDF and UNIFIL, to discuss the issue of Israel’s activity along the border. However, UNIFIL sources reported that Israel canceled its participation (Israeli TV Kan 11, July 15, 2023).
Dorothy C. Shea, the US ambassador to Lebanon, informed Najib Mikati the prime minister for the Lebanese interim government, that the American government did not want tension in south Lebanon, and conveyed a message from Israeli stating clearly that it had no interest whatsoever in escalation. She stressed that UNIFIL had to coordinate with the Lebanese army regarding all points of tension (Israeli media, July 14, 2023).
Dispute over the delineation of the Israel-Lebanon land border
Reporting on government action taken by the Lebanese foreign ministry to delineate the border between Israel and Lebanon, the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Akhbar wrote that Lebanese officials had informed American administration officials and UN representatives that Lebanon had no interest in negotiating the country’s southern border. Lebanon, according to al-Akhbar, demanded Israel vacate all the points it had “invaded,” and Lebanon demanded a return to the international borders established in 1923 (al-Akhbar, July 14, 2023)
Hezbollah propaganda video simulates an attack on an IDF post
To exacerbate the tension on the ground, Hezbollah’s combat propaganda unit issued a video of Hezbollah’s al-Radwan force, the organization’s elite unit, simulating the takeover of an Israeli post. According to the video, the simulation began with “softening” the post by firing anti-tank missiles and mortar shells. Then dozens of Hezbollah operatives on motorcycles and driving ATVs launched the attack. After the takeover’s “successful completion,” a Hezbollah flag was raised over the post. The operatives used UAVs, land mines and IEDs to breach its fortifications, then entrenched their positions in the area and searched the post’s “bunker” (al-Manar, July 17, 2023)
Renewing UNIFIL’s mandate
According to reports, in preparation for renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, the Lebanese government withdrew its condition regarding the limitation of the force’s activity (Nidaa al-Watan, July 15, 2023). In the meantime, the Lebanese foreign ministry stated that it continued working to extend UNIFIL’s mandate, which would ensure the agency’s freedom of action to coordinate with the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army (Lebanese foreign ministry Twitter account, July 15, 2023).
Hassan Nasrallah’s speech for the Ashura
On July 18, 2023, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah secretary general, gave a speech to mark the Ashura. He spoke about the meaning of the Battle of Karbala and the religious importance of honoring the memory of the martyrs (the shuhadaa). Nasrallah emphasized the importance of inculcating the Battle of Karbala, its significance, values and instructions as a living memory, a model for fashioning perception and a course for present and future action. He claimed the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 was “the greatest event of the last century” and that Ayatollah Khomeini, who declared the Islamic Revolution, said that “everything [the Shi’ites] have is from the Ashura.” According to Nasrallah, the Ashura represented sacrifice, heroism, enthusiasm and determination, which was how the “resistance” operated in Lebanon.
Nasrallah’s speech was rife with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli motifs and propaganda. For example, he said that in the Qur’an Allah warned the Muslims about the “Children of Israel” [the Jews], and to this day they posed the greatest challenge to the Muslims and “all humanity”. Allah, he claimed, taught the Muslims about the “Children of Israel,” their psychology and their fears, and from the Qur’an Hezbollah learned about them and about their “invincible army.” He also claimed the Qur’an referred to the Jews as hedonists because they loved life and as cowards who attacked when protected by fences. He pointed out that Allah taught the Muslims not to be hedonists and Hezbollah benefited greatly from [the system of sacrifice in this life for eternal life in paradise]. He added that the Jews were not “the Chosen People” but rather murdered the prophets and distorted Allah’s messages.
He concluded by claiming that this year the Ashura was celebrated with the slogan, “Karbala, our way to the Mahdi” [the Muslim Messiah who is supposed to appear before Judgment Day], and said the Battle of Karbala was a symbol which taught many values, including, altruism, honesty, sacrifice, honesty, standing firm and dealing with injustice, insult and humiliation. He said, “Karbala teaches us not to collapse when faced with a multitude of enemies, despite their strength, and paves the way for future generations until the end of time and for the establishment of justice and the abolition of oppression and tyranny” (al-Manar, July 18, 2023).
Hezbollah control of the border crossings
On July 12, 2023, a new scanner was installed on the Lebanese side of the al-Masnaa Crossing, the main border crossing between Syria and Lebanon, and will be used to scan trucks and other vehicles. Ali Hamia, Lebanon’s minister of transportation and public works, and a member of Hezbollah, said it increased border safety because it would now be possible to track incoming merchandise. He said that in the near future similar scanners would be installed in Beirut’s airport and seaports. Hezbollah also has considerable influence and control over inspections conducted at the various border crossings, so that “merchandise” marked for Hezbollah will continue to enter by land, air and sea without inspection (The Alma Research and Education Center, July 16, 2023; alraiionline.com, July 12, 2023).
The presidential crisis
The presidential crisis in Lebanon continues as no camp has been able to obtain a majority for an agreed-on candidate. Hezbollah is still determined to support the candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh, who is affiliated with organization and close to the Syrian regime. An “unidentified political source” reported a Qatari envoy would visit Lebanon in the near future to discuss the issue. The source also claimed Qatar had been active behind the scenes for some time. According to al-Diyar, four candidates will be discussed: Suleiman Frangieh, Lebanese army Chief, Joseph Aoun, and two others whose names were not mentioned (naharnet.com, July 16, 2023; al-Diyar, July 16, 2023).
The five-member committee for Lebanon, which includes representatives from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, met on July 17, 2023 in Doha, the capital of Qatar. According to initial reports, they decided what measures would be used against those who tried to prevent a successful presidential election. Later, reports were published from Western sources claiming the committee preferred to focus on the post-election phase. The French envoy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, proposed Frangieh as a presidential candidate; his was the only name mentioned. The sources added that electing the president from one political party and appointing prime minister from another had not been discussed. Furthermore, the sources said the committee would probably meet again in France in September and discuss the possibility of instituting “harsh measures” against anyone who tried to keep the electoral process from advancing (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 17 and 18, 2023).
Joint naval exercise held by the armies of Lebanon, the United States and other countries
On July 9 and 18, 2023, the Lebanese Army held a naval exercise in the Hannouch area, (where the Lebanese army has training facilities), about 45 kilometers (about 28 miles) north of the Beirut. It was a joint exercise held in cooperation with training teams from the United States, Great Britain and France as well as units from Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The exercise was conducted by the command of the Lebanese navy in cooperation with the air force, military medical unit, military engineering force and naval commando force. Joseph Aoun, Chief of Staff of the Lebanese army, was present at the naval maneuver concluding the exercise (Lebanon army website, July 18, 2023).
The American mediator visits Lebanon
Amos Hochstein, the senior advisor to the President of the United States who mediated the issue of the Israel-Lebanon maritime border, will visit Lebanon next month (August 2023). His visit will coincide with the beginning of offshore drilling in Lebanon’s southern economic waters (Block 9). Hochstein is expected to be present at the start of the drilling and may discuss additional issues with Lebanese officials (agenzianova.com, July 14, 2023).
On July 15, 2023, the Transocean Barents drilling rig sailed from the coast of Norway, en route to Lebanon to begin initial drillings for oil and gas reservoirs. The rig is expected to anchor in the Straits of Gibraltar for several days to refuel before resuming its journey to Lebanon, which will take about a month. The first ship, which brought the pipes to be used by the rig, has already arrived at the port of Beirut (This is Beirut, July 19, 2023).
Syrian refugees in Lebanon
On July 11, 2023, the European Parliament, the EU’s legislative body, passed a resolution calling on Lebanon not to expel Syrian refugees from its territory. The resolution called on Lebanon to refrain from deportations, discrimination and encouraging hatred towards the Syrian refugees. Senior Lebanese officials insist that Syrian refugees return to their homeland in light of Lebanon’s economic hardships and shaky internal security (Xinhua, July 13, 2023). The Lebanese government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrian refugees in its territory, but according to higher estimates there are 2 million or even 2.5 million people.
Abdullah Bou Habib, Lebanese foreign minister, sent a letter to Joseph Borrell, the deputy chairman of the European Commission for Foreign Affairs, in which he harshly criticized the European Parliament’s decision. Habib called for a Lebanese-EU dialogue to discuss several issues, the Syrian refugees in particular. He claimed the refugees had begun to pose a threat not only to Lebanon’s social fabric and economic stability, but to the country’s very existence. He promised that Lebanon would be responsible for facilitating the refugees’ safe and dignified return to their homes in accordance with international law and in a manner that did not conflict with the Lebanese constitution, which states that Lebanon is not a country of refuge. He called on the international community to address the reasons for the Syrian refugee presence in Lebanon and to ensure the existence of infrastructure and social services in Syria to facilitate their return (al-Nashra, July 19, 2023).
Other senior Lebanese officials also reacted to the EU resolution:
Issam Charafeddine, the minister of immigration, claimed the EU’s objective was to put pressure on Lebanon not to advance a mechanism in conjunction with Syria for the safe return of the displaced to their homes. He called for an urgent cabinet meeting to condemn the “unfair” decision because Lebanon already suffered from profound socio-economic and security challenges (Xinhua, July 13, 2023).
Amin Salam, the minister of economy and trade, also objected to the resolution and pointed out that the European Parliament had neither the right nor the authority to decide the issue because it was an internal Lebanese matter, and the European countries themselves were reluctant to accept refugees (Xinhua, July 13, 2023).
Nabil Qaouq, a senior Hezbollah official, called the resolution “crude, provocative and tyrannical,” an attack on Lebanese sovereignty and Lebanese honor, and a genuine threat to national stability and unity. He emphasized that Lebanon was not obligated to follow European recommendations and had to act in accordance with its own best interests by coordinating with the Syrian government to resolve the refugee crisis (al-Manar, July 16, 2023).
Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, said it was a sovereign Lebanese decision and the EU Parliament resolution was merely a recommendation which Lebanon was not in any way bound to follow (al-Nashra, July 16, 2023).
Aerial attack against Hezbollah targets south of Damascus attributed to Israel
On the night of July 18, 2023, an aerial attack attributed to Israel was carried out against Hezbollah and pro-Iranian militia targets near the al-Dimas airport, close to the Syria-Lebanon border. Reportedly, a Syrian army soldier or fighter in its auxiliary forces and at least two foreign (non-Syrian) pro-Iranian militia operatives were killed and four were wounded. The destruction of large quantities of military and logistical equipment was also reported (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 19, 2023).
The Syrian opposition website, Syria TV, reported that one of the sites attacked served as a training center for Hezbollah fighters, and had been recently established within the nearby al-Ahrar training base. According to Syria TV, also attacked was a site belonging to Hezbollah near the town of al-Sabourah, about 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) west of Damascus (Syria TV, July 19, 2023).
 https://youtu.be/sMnU3ich0hM?t=2 ↑
 The 1923 border was delineated between the British Mandate in Eretz Israel and the French Mandate in Lebanon and was also the ceasefire line of 1948 when the State of Israel was established. ↑
 The Ashura marks the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE (the year 61 according to the Muslim calendar) which ended with the defeat of the camp of Husayn ibn Ali. He was killed, as well as many members of the family of Ali ibn Abu Taleb, who according to Shi’a was supposed to inherit the leadership of the Muslim nation from the Prophet Muhammad. For Shi’ites, the battle turned into a symbol of sacrifice and martyrdom, and was a source of frustration and rage against the Sunnis, who took the birthright from Ali and his descendants, and deprived and persecuted them. ↑