Israel’s military went on a propaganda offensive against Iran and Hezbollah using social media to drastically increase tensions with neighboring Lebanon hours after Benjamin Netanyahu warned the nation’s enemies, in Arabic, to “watch it.”
The Israeli prime minister was on the campaign trail ahead of elections scheduled for September 17. But the barrage of agitprop by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) represented a dramatic shift towards a warning of outright war.
The casus belli, Israel says, is Iran’s efforts to modernize Hezbollah’s Lebanon-based arsenal of what Israel says is more than 100,000 rockets into precision-guided missiles.
Since the ill-fated Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, during which the IDF lost nearly 120 troops and scores of civilians and about 270 Hezbollah fighters and 50 Lebanese soldiers and police died, there’s been an understanding between the two enemies that neither would do anything that could spark a return to all-out conflict. Both sides have, until now anyway, recognized a degree of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) in that scenario.
But Israel has now named three senior Iranian officers, two brigadier generals and a colonel, whom the IDF said were in charge of the missile program for Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also pointedly observed that the leader of the group, the Iranian Quds Force, was in the country “with his family.”
The names and faces of the three men appear in one IDF video that alleges the weapons facilities are being deliberately built in civilian areas using locals as human shields against potential Israeli attack.
Another video says that Hezbollah could soon have the capability to fly a missile onto an Israeli address as simply as if it was using the popular Waze navigation app. The propaganda clip even uses an animation of the app itself to drive its point home. Ironically, the video doesn’t note that Waze was invented by an Israeli company.
These information operations come against a backdrop of real-world conflict. Israel has championed its operation last weekend against alleged Iranian-commanded Hezbollah drone operators in Syria when it flattened a compound with air strikes.
Israel has been coy about who has been responsible for at least four mysterious air strikes against Iranian-backed militia in Iraq. And silent about Lebanese and Hezbollah allegations that Israel attacked a Hezbollah site in southern Beirut with small drones, also at the weekend.
The one thing that ordinary people on all sides of the conflicts would agree on, rightly or wrongly, is the belief that the Israelis were behind the whole lot. Arguably, that’s the impression Israel wants to leave.
More widely, its strategy has been to bomb — whenever “necessary” — Iranian and Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria for the last few years in hundreds of sorties.
But it has steered clear of operations inside Lebanon where Hezbollah has its bases buried deep inside mountains, its political wing has several seats in the national legislature and three Cabinet posts, including the health ministry, and is by a wide margin the most potent fighting force in the country.
By naming Iranian officers allegedly operational in Lebanon, Israel is effectively painting targets on their backs for its air force. In insisting that the Lebanese government should dismantle Iranian efforts to build Hezbollah guided missiles, Israel is warning that it’s prepared to risk MAD to prevent what it sees as strategic weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists.
Israel also knows, and so does everyone in Lebanon, that there’s nothing that the Lebanese government could do to stop Hezbollah’s weapons programs. So, Israel is simply making the case for war, in public.