‘We share their pain’: Israel rushes to offer Lebanon aid

Explosion could prompt a backlash in Lebanon against Israel’s arch-foe Hezbollah

August 06, 2020 11:01

Leaders in Jerusalem had two responses to this week’s tragedy 350 miles away in Beirut. The first was to offer aid — and the second to fathom what it means for Israel’s security.

On Tuesday, soon after the explosions that killed more than 100 people, wounded more than 4,000 and left an estimated 300,000 homeless, Israel relayed an offer of help.

“Israel approached Lebanon through international defence and diplomatic channels to offer the Lebanese government medical humanitarian aid,” said Benny Gantz, Minister of Defence, and Gabi Ashkenazi, Foreign Minister, in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Ziv Medical Centre in Safed, and Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan all offered to receive wounded from Lebanon. 

But Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terror group and political party, has significant power in Lebanon’s government. Defying the expectations of some, it has not tried to blame Israel for the explosions but it is expected to block Lebanon from accepting help. As the JC went to press, there had been no response from Beirut. 

Some international figures were surprised to see Israel offering help to an enemy state. “The only encouraging thing in this catastrophe in Lebanon is that even Israel has been quick in offering humanitarian aid,” the former Swedish prime minister and diplomat Carl Bildt tweeted. 

Orit Farkash Hacohen, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister, asked him in response: “Why are you surprised?” She wrote: “Israel defends itself from its enemies, while helping the civilian population wherever it can,” noting that Jerusalem has offered aid to Tehran and Baghdad and helped Syrians during the civil war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed National SecurityCouncil head Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss with the United Nations how Israel can help Lebanon and reiterated in Knesset on Wednesday that Israel is serious about its offer. President Reuven Rivlin said: “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”

As leaders offered aid, their advisers tried to wrap their heads around the security ramifications of what had happened. They are not sharing their conclusions but Amos Yadlin, a former general famous for getting in the heads of current leadership, gave a briefing to journalists on Wednesday morning.

The explosion could prompt a backlash in Lebanon against Israel’s arch-foe Hezbollah, weakening the group and improving Israel’s security, said Mr Yadlin, a former military attaché to Washington who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies think tank.

Last year, there were unconfirmed reports in Israel suggesting that Mossad had informed intelligence agencies in Europe that Hezbollah stores ammonium nitrate — the substance that Lebanese authorities say caused the explosion — in various locations around the world, including London. 

There is speculation that the explosion may have been caused by a Hezbollah store and Mr Yadlin, commented: “If this is a Hezbollah warehouse, which I cannot prove now, this will be a very serious allegation against Hezbollah and may put more pressure on Hezbollah to end its military role in Lebanon.”

He said that in the long term, if Hezbollah was sidelined, there would be nothing standing in the way of Israel and Lebanon making peace. 

More immediately, Mr Yadlin said, it could prompt Hezbollah to scrap plans for its promised action against Israel in retaliation for a July 21 strike in Damascus that killed one of its operatives — a strike it has blamed on Israel.  

Speaking about Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and his promise of retaliation, Mr Yadlin said: “I think he’ll find a ladder to climb down from his tree, unless he’s insensitive to a point that would surprise me.”

Hillel Frisch, a Middle East expert at Bar Ilan University, told the JC he also thinks that Hezbollah will pause attacks against Israel as Lebanon responds to the explosion. “In the short term it’s going to constrain Hezbollah because, in part, it attacks Israeli for attention in media, and media attention is elsewhere.”

Professor Frisch thinks that even if it is proved that the explosion had nothing to do with Hezbollah arms storage, the incident will still harm the group’s standing in Lebanon. “Hezbollah is going to pay, for being part of a government that didn’t deal with this problem,” he said, noting that Hezbollah has major power in Lebanon’s ruling establishment, which will be widely blamed for not enforcing safety rules to prevent such a disaster.

He commented: “Hezbollah has been losing ground for many years and the war it waged in Syria was so unipolar that Hezbollah media sites hardly reported on it. This incident now furthers its lack of popularity.”

August 06, 2020 11:01

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive