(March 16, 2023 / JNS)
The Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces suspect that the Palestinian terrorist Israeli forces shot and killed earlier this week after he planted a roadside bomb, which seriously wounded a man from the Israeli Arab village of Salem, was working for Hezbollah.
Days later, it is known that the attacker infiltrated northern Israel from Lebanon, where he was attempting to return when forces neutralized him. Whether he has a connection with Hezbollah remains to be seen.
“Whoever is responsible for the attack will pay for it. We will find the right place, the correct way and hit back,” said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
As the investigation continues, the unusual nature of the attack is a cause for concern, counter-terrorism experts told JNS.
“The fact that a terrorist was able to infiltrate into Israel from Lebanon is itself disconcerting, whichever group proves responsible for the plot,” Matthew Levitt, a fellow and director of the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank told JNS.
“If it does prove to be true that Hezbollah was involved, this would mark a serious escalation in the group’s efforts to find ways to attack Israel in ways the group calculates limit the likelihood of large-scale reprisals,” he said.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan, national security and foreign-policy research institute, agreed.
“If this attack was ordered and executed by Hezbollah, Israel will understandably need to respond,” Schanzer told JNS. “However, there are complications in doing so. For one, tensions are already high in the West Bank, and the last thing Israel needs is a two-front conflict.”
Hezbollah’s stockpiling of lethal precision-guided munitions makes the potential for conflict more daunting, he added.
‘The timing is connected’
To Israeli counter-terrorism experts, the fact that Hezbollah—a terror group that is backed and funded by Iran—has not claimed responsibility for the bombing compounds the already complicated situation.
“The modus operandi of this attack is confusing,” Liram Koblentz-Stenzler, senior researcher and head of the global far-right extremism desk at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Israel and a visiting fellow at Yale University, told JNS.
“Since the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah has not conducted an attack inside of Israel,” she said, referring to the nearly two-month conflict in the summer of 2006. “The fact that Hezbollah may have been involved in an attack without leaving a footprint is very worrisome.”
Koblentz-Stenzler’s colleague Michael Barak, head of the ICT’s Palestinian and global jihad research desk, told JNS that there are clear signs that Hezbollah was at least involved in the attack.
“I believe that this penetration was with the affirmation of Hezbollah,” he said. “We know that a Palestinian from Lebanon went to Megiddo to conduct the attack and that Hezbollah established a joint warfare room to launch attacks on Israel.”
The explosive used in the attack wasn’t custom-made in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, according to Barak. Hezbollah has been increasing coordination with other terrorist groups, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, according to Arabic media reports.
“The timing in this attack is also connected,” added Barak, to Ramadan—the Muslim holy month that begins on March 21.
“The hope may be to provoke Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to cause unrest,” he said. “With the ongoing civil unrest in the West Bank and internal legal reforms, Hezbollah may see this as a perfect opportunity to cause chaos.”