The Ayoub Drone and Sparking War

Yahya Dbouk

Originally posted on Al-Akhbar English, 16 October 2012

On 12 July 2006, Hezbollah breached the border fence between Lebanon and occupied Palestine. The operation aimed to capture Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for Lebanese and Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.

This operation was followed by a 33-day Israeli war on Lebanon that was met with the approval of most Arab and Western governments.

The aim of the war was to crush Hezbollah and create a different reality in Lebanon that would usher in – through the gateway of Lebanon – a new Middle East that would be subservient to the United States.

On 7 October 2012, a Hezbollah drone called Ayoub penetrated the Israeli airspace all the way to the south of occupied Palestine passing close to the most important strategic Israeli installation – the Dimona nuclear reactor. Tel Aviv’s response was clear and full of implications: It bit its tongue and retreated.

It is useful to compare the two incidents. Ayoub was able to penetrate Israeli airspace all the way to Dimona, bypassing the entire Israeli radar and air defense system. Moreover, the drone flew over very sensitive military bases.

Compared to what happened in 2006, the drone did not only go beyond the blue line [border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel], it touched the green line in the West Bank and went beyond the red line associated with the Dimona nuclear reactor.

What can we learn from this comparison? Only political naivete would lead one to believe that the border breach in 2006 pushed Israel to war. It is akin to believing that the assassination attempt against the Austrian crown prince in 1914 led to World War One. The Ayoub operation serves as another retroactive reminder that the 2006 war was a US decision that employed Israeli tools to achieve political objectives in Lebanon and the region.

The question that begs an answer in the post-Ayoub political scene is the following. What prompted Israel to bite its tongue and refrain from reacting this time around? This despite the fact that Ayoub’s breach of Israeli territorial integrity is not only bigger, more comprehensive and more significant than the 2006 incident, but it also has a larger impact on Israeli national security. We can draw several conclusions from this incident.

First of all, the Ayoub incident indicates that any action Lebanon takes to deter Israel or prevent Israeli aggression is directly related to the struggle of mutual deterrence between the two sides. This is, in turn, linked to the fact that the Lebanese Resistance now has the ability to inflict unprecedented damage on Israel if the latter decides to attack Lebanon.
This background helps explain Israel’s failure to respond antagonistically to Ayoub as it backpedaled from the initial threats issued by its war minister Ehud Barak in the aftermath of the incident.

Secondly, the Ayoub drone was an indicator – for Israel especially – of how advanced the military, security and technological abilities of  the Resistance are. This serves to further deter Israel from attacking Lebanon militarily.

If Ayoub were, until very recently, one of the secret surprises of the next war, then Israelis should await the surprises that have not been revealed by Hezbollah yet. Surely, many of these surprises will only be revealed in case of a direct military confrontation between the two sides, if Israel were to decide to launch a war or do something that would ultimately result in war.

Thirdly, Israel’s strategic environment is going through a transitional period characterized by uncertainty and open to several possibilities. As such, any aggression towards Lebanon, whether limited or far reaching, would lead to a wide-scale military confrontation.

Such a confrontation might mobilize Arab public opinion, which is no longer controlled by dictators as it was in the past, and redirect it against Israel. The next confrontation with Hezbollah is expected to witness unprecedented victories on the part of the Lebanese party, accomplishments that will be seized upon by Arab public opinion as the street fixes its gaze on Israel.

This might explain Israeli self-restraint, specifically with regards to resistance forces, including its failure to respond to the Ayoub operation despite its negative impact on Israel.
Fourth, the Ayoub operation is in line with Hezbollah’s defensive strategy. The drone penetration is a response to repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty towards which some Lebanese parties have become complacent. If Hezbollah is to be questioned about the Ayoub drone, the question should not be about sending the drone but rather what took them so long.

Yahya Dbouk is Israeli Affairs Columnist at Al-Akhbar. This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition, reprinted with the permission of Al-Akhbar English.

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