- Print This Post Print This Post

by John Helmer, Moscow 

Arab, Russian,  and international media are reporting the Israeli government has issued an ultimatum that if Hezbollah does not withdraw its army and arms from their positions in southern Lebanon, between the Litani River and the Blue Line (lead image), and redeploy north of the Litani,  Israel will launch an air and ground attack on the region of southern Lebanon,  and also on Beirut. The Israeli ultimatum reportedly sets a 48-hour time limit.

There is no official Israeli record of this ultimatum. In the non-Israeli press, it is attributed to remarks on local television made on Saturday night, December 9, by Israel’s National Security Advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi.  However, in the version reported by Times of Israel, Hanegbi did not set any time limit.  

Instead, Hanegbi claimed that “Hezbollah’s Radwan force could attempt a similar murderous invasion from the north, targeting civilians in communities near the border. Israel, he acknowledged, was tackling Hamas ‘17 years too late,’ and it could no longer dare to tolerate the danger of the prevailing situation in the north, with Hezbollah’s forces at the border. Some 60,000 residents of border communities have been evacuated from the north since October 7, amid relentless and sometimes deadly clashes across the border between Hezbollah and Israel. ‘Residents will not return if we don’t do the same thing’ in the north against Hezbollah as is being done in the south against Hamas…”   

 “‘We can no longer accept [Hezbollah’s] Radwan force sitting on the border. We can no longer accept Resolution 1701 not being implemented,’ he added, referring to a UN Security Council resolution from 2006, at the end of the Second Lebanon War, that barred any Hezbollah presence within almost 30 kilometres of the border with Israel.  Asked directly if there would be a war in the north, Hanegbi said: ‘The situation in the north must be changed. And it will change. If Hezbollah agrees to change things via diplomacy, very good. But I don’t believe it will.’ Therefore, he said, ‘when the day comes,’ Israel will have to act to ensure that residents of the north are no longer ‘displaced in their land, and to guarantee for them that the situation in the north has changed.’

“Hanegbi noted that while many countries have missiles pointed at Israel, including Iran, Syria and Iraq, ‘Israel doesn’t invade them’. The fear regarding Hezbollah’s Radwan force is that ‘within minutes’,  it could cross the border and begin a murderous rampage in northern communities as Hamas did in the south on October 7. Israel cannot tolerate this threat any longer, he said. Hanegbi said Israel does not want to fight simultaneously on two fronts, and indicated it would therefore tackle Hezbollah after Hamas is defeated. He said Israel has been  ‘making clear to the Americans that we are not interested in war [in the north], but that we will have no alternative but to impose a new reality’ if Hezbollah remains a threat.’”  

The Russian Foreign Ministry is reporting no reaction to these claims, nor any ministry contact in Moscow with a Lebanese government official. None of the mainstream Russian newspapers nor the media specializing on military and security affairs are reporting the remarks of Hanegbi  as a signal of imminent Israeli air and ground attack against Hezbollah.

The Russian reaction is that the Israelis are bluffing.

Over the past twenty years, the Russian government policy has been to condemn Hezbollah operations against Israel as “terrorist”,  and Israeli attacks on Lebanon as “disproportionate”.  

In the last official communication at the foreign minister level with Lebanon in November 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov didn’t mention Hezbollah.

Lavrov did mention Russian interest in investing in offshore oil exploration of the Mediterranean  seabed claimed by Lebanon. “We discussed our cooperative efforts, including our companies’ [Novatek and Rosneft]  activities, to develop Lebanon’s energy sector. Among other things, we focused on drilling in Lebanon’s continental shelf, which Novatek engages in, and expanding a petroleum product storage terminal at a Rosneft-owned port in Lebanon…As for oil and gas production, I have already mentioned that Russian hydrocarbon exploration and production companies, in particular, Novatek, are planning to sink another offshore well in early 2022. Rosneft, which is implementing a major project, has a contract on the operational management of [an oil products terminal] in the port of Tripoli.”


For a detailed analysis of the legal and diplomatic issues, read this.  For the potential targeting by Hezbollah of the Israeli gas fields identified in the map, if fighting on the northern front escalates, read this.  

Since the Gaza war began on October 7, Israeli threats to cross the Blue Line  and attack southern Lebanon and Beirut are not new.

On November 11, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, said: “‘What we can do in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut…Our pilots are sitting in their cockpits, their aircraft facing north,’ Gallant said, stressing that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] already has mobilized enough forces for its goals in the South against Hamas, and the Israel Air Force has plenty of power to spare. ‘We haven’t even used 10% of the IAF’s power in Gaza.’”   

On December 6 Gallant added:  “We’ll push Hezbollah beyond Litani River before residents of northern Israel return home”.   

Last Friday, the day before he took a telephone call from President Vladimir Putin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced:  “ ‘If Hezbollah chooses to start an all-out war then it will, by its own hand, turn Beirut and southern Lebanon, not far from here, into Gaza and Khan Younis,’ Netanyahu said while visiting troops near the border.”  

In the Kremlin report of Netanyahu’s telephone conversation with Putin on Saturday, December 9, the communiqué omits to reveal what Netanyahu said.  Instead, it is reported “the discussion focused on the critical situation in the Palestine-Israel conflict zone, in particular, the disastrous humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his principled position of rejecting and condemning terrorism in all its manifestations. At the same time, it is of the essence to avoid such grave consequences for the civilian population while countering terrorist threats. Russia is ready to provide all possible assistance to alleviate the suffering of civilians and de-escalate the conflict. In addition, the parties expressed mutual interest in further cooperation on the evacuation of Russian citizens and their families, as well as the release of Israelis held in Gaza.”  

In Moscow Boris Rozhin (right), who publishes the Colonel Cassad military blog, has reported the Israeli ultimatum without expressing scepticism towards the 48-hour deadline. Instead, he is sceptical that the Israeli forces have the capability to achieve what they threaten.  “The Middle East is characterized by loud statements, issuing ultimatums, and exchanging threats, which are not always followed by concrete actions,” Rozhin commented through republishing a partner blog.

“It is obvious that the Lebanese government does not have the levers of influence that can force the leadership of Hezbollah to make concessions to the enemy. If Israel makes the announced decision, it will have at least two consequences:  Any act of military aggression against Lebanese territory by the IDF will create conditions for Iran’s involvement in the conflict. Israel is now launching air and artillery strikes against Hezbollah targets, but does not have the necessary capability to conduct ground operations. Most of the IDF’s combat-ready units are concentrated in the Gaza Strip. So far, units of the 300th Baram Brigade of the 91st Galilee Division, as well as the 75th battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade, are fixed on the border. Given the information about Hezbollah’s deployment of a full-fledged air defense system in southern Lebanon, Israel risks multiplying losses in aviation, while the account of armoured vehicles destroyed in the Gaza Strip has already run in the dozens.  If Israel does decide, it is worth expecting an attack by Iranian ‘proxy groups’ in the area of the occupied Golan Heights.”

The lead image map illustrates the Blue Line as the demarcation between the Israeli and Hezbollah forces after their withdrawal at the ceasefire of the 2006 war. It is a line of force unresolved by continuing fighting. Read more.  

The terms of the Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, to which the Hanegbi ultimatum refers, can be read here.  

 Source: http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/1701

Hezbollah accuses Israel of repeatedly violating Point 1, as Israel makes the same allegation against Hezbollah. They invalidate the two sides’ undertaking in Point 8(2) to implement “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area.”   

International lawyers dispute Hanegbi’s claim that the disputed terms of Resolution 1701 would make legal the threatened IDF air and ground attack on Lebanon.

Leave a Reply