August 27, 2019

Tensions have heightened between Israel and Lebanon after a series of incidents across several countries - Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq - in the Middle East over the weekend of Aug. 24-25. One of these incidents involved two drones that crashed in the Dahieh area of Beirut, Aug. 25. Dahieh is the stronghold of the Shi'a militant group Hizballah in Beirut. The first drone was a surveillance unit that crashed into a media center belonging to Hizballah; the second drone was laden with explosives and detonated in the air. The precise target of the drones remains unclear and neither of the drones left any casualties. While Israel has not claimed responsibility for the drones, the incidents have been attributed to the country. Lebanese leaders - including Hassan Nasrallah, who serves as the head of Hizballah - Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and President Michel Aoun - have condemned the incident and accused Israel of attempting to push Lebanon toward war. Nasrallah has pledged retaliation while President Aoun likened the drone incident to a declaration of war.

Following the Aug. 25 incident, Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militant group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), near the village of Qusaya in the Beqa'a Valley in eastern Lebanon, Aug. 26. These two incidents transpired after the Israel Defense Force (IDF) conducted airstrikes against military sites in Syria and Iraq. On Aug. 24, the IDF targeted a Syrian base in the Aqraba area near the capital, Damascus, which it said was being used by the Iranians to prepare drone attacks against Israel. Two Hizballah fighters were killed in that incident. Iraqi officials accused the IDF of having carried out an airstrike against a Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) base in al-Qaim near Iraq's western border with Syria that killed a prominent militia leader, Aug. 25. The PMUs are Iranian-backed Shi'a militias.


Israeli Airstrikes 

Israel has been conducting airstrikes in Syria against Iranian assets and personnel since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. However, the IDF has not engaged in any kind of military action against Hizballah since the brief 2006 conflict between Israel and the militant group. The drone incidents and airstrikes against the PFLP-GC in the Beqa'a Valley has the potential to radically change the security environment in the region. Hizballah is reportedly already preparing retaliation against Israel in response to the drone incidents. Hizballah is unlikely to target civilian population centers, but an attack against a military site and installation within Israel is possible. The Israelis will almost certainly respond. While none of the parties want to escalate tensions to the point of direct war, once tit-for-tat military responses begin, it is difficult to see where they will lead or when they will end.

In anticipation of a possible retaliatory response from Hizballah, the IDF has already reinforced its positions along the Lebanese border and has deployed Iron Dome missile defense system batteries to thwart any incoming projectiles. Israeli authorities have limited traffic on all roads along the Lebanese border and all military bases throughout Israel have been placed on high alert.


Future Confrontation Between Hizballah and Israel

The possibility of another direct confrontation between Hizballah and Israel cannot be ruled out, especially if the militant group launches rocket attacks into Israel in response to the IDF violating Lebanese airspace or targeting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operatives and advisors in Syria. Since their war in 2006, Israel and Hizballah have limited their conflict to occasional rocket attacks into Israel and exchanges of fire at the border. This relative peace will likely hold as long as Lebanon and Israel continue to engage in dialogue. In the near term, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will continue to mediate talks between Israel and Lebanon to placate both sides' anxieties over the border region’s stability. Israel is likely to continue to use Lebanese airspace to carry out attacks against research centers and airbases in Syria. The recent airstrikes highlight Israel's anxiety over Iran's activities in Syria and the country's determination to degrade Iran's military capabilities in the region and halt its military activities.


Business Continuity Advice for Organizations

Multi-national organizations operating in both Lebanon and Israel should develop an emergency evacuation plan in the event of cross border violence between Israel and Hizballah. Global enterprises should also plan for possible clashes and significant travel disruptions. Use the tips below to ensure the safety of your people operating in the region.

  • If fighting breaks out, remain sheltered in a secure location, preferably indoors, away from exterior walls and windows.
  • Liaise with trusted local contacts for updates on the situation, and verify onward transportation before checking out of accommodation.
  • Prepare for heightened security, including checkpoints.
  • Carry official identification at all times.
  • Heed all instructions from security personnel.
  • Remain calm and nonconfrontational, and comply with authorities' directions if confronted.
  • Do not attempt to bypass security checkpoints; even an accidental breach of the security cordon near a checkpoint may prompt security forces to respond aggressively.


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