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Amid Syria Standoff, PM Netanyahu Shifts Focus Onto Hizbullah In Lebanon

By Charles Bybelezer | The Media Line

November 11, 2018

Lebanese supporters of Shiite Hizbullah movement. Image by: MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Analysts believe that Netanyahu could be sending out a trial balloon for possible military activity against Iran’s terrorist proxy

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Iran-centric security policy increasingly is focusing on the dangers associated with Hizbullah’s alleged construction of precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon.

According to Hebrew-language media, the growing threat will top the premier’s agenda when he meets in Paris with President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of a summit marking 100 years since the end of World War One.

“Israel is making known that it will continue to uphold its national interests,” Vera Michlin-Shapir, a Research Associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Studies, explained to The Media Line. “The government wants to ensure that Iran does not entrench itself, and we have not heard [lately] about Israeli strikes in Syria. The situation with Russia is contributing to that silence.”

While Netanyahu publicly sounded the alarm over Hizbullah at the United Nations General Assembly in September, he upped his rhetoric after Moscow transferred to the Assad regime the S-300 defense system, which curtailed Jerusalem’s ability to prevent Tehran from establishing a military presence in Syria and from arming its Lebanese proxy.

Tensions between Israel and Russia remain high following the downing nearly two months ago of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces, an incident the Kremlin nevertheless blamed on Israel which minutes before conducted an aerial operation against an Iranian installation in Latakia.

Notably, President Vladimir Putin reportedly declined numerous requests for a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu in the French capital due to lingering anger over the episode.

“This is a tremendous game-changer,” Professor Hillel Frisch, a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, contended to The Media Line. “Israel is going to have to make a decision about whether to continue bombing [in Syria and possibly in Lebanon] without Russian awareness or to seek further diplomatic arrangements. If they choose to attack, it would be to stop the development of weaponry for Hizbullah.”

In this respect, the Islamic Republic recently was accused of delivering GPS components to Hizbullah that can be used to transform its stockpile of some 150,000 rockets into sophisticated missiles capable of hitting within a few meters of their intended target almost anywhere in Israel.

“This puts pressure on Israel, so Lebanon again has become a very important issue,” Dr. Ely Karmon, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, stressed to The Media Line. “Netanyahu [at the UNGA] revealed a map of underground military facilities built by Hizbullah, and a few weeks ago we heard that Iran conducted one or two flights through Damascus to Beirut.

“Therefore, Netanyahu is trying to garner interest from foreign leaders as perhaps the government has decided that it is time to act directly against Hizbullah targets even at the risk of some kind of escalation. Also, the Russians don’t have the same legitimacy to inhibit Israel from operating in Lebanon.”

Indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu may be sending out a trial balloon for a possible military incursion, having in the past repeatedly drawn a figurative red line at Hizbullah’s acquisition of cutting-edge arms.

(Victor Cabrera, a Student Intern at The Media Line, contributed to this report)

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