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Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah and Iran plan a Mediterranean naval campaign against Israel

By Yoni Ben Menachem
web posted July 1, 2024

Hassan Nasrallah's recent warning to Cyprus aims to discourage its cooperation with Israel, as part of a Hizbullah-Iranian broader campaign to raise international awareness about the potential consequences of an all-out war with Israel.

Nasrallah seeks to generate international pressure on Israel to prevent a significant pre-emptive attack on Hizbullah, whether through air or ground strikes, including large-scale air strikes like those that opened the 2006 Second Lebanon War after Hizbullah ambushed Israeli soldiers on patrol.

He emphasizes that any future conflict will differ significantly with new rules and strategies.

Hizbullah's threats include a first strike on Israel involving a ground invasion of the Galilee, possibly via tunnels, attacks on Israeli ships in the Mediterranean, deploying swarms of drones into Israeli airspace to target military bases and strategic facilities, and attacking Israel's gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea.

One If by Land, Two If by Sea

No Iranian warships from the regular navy or the Revolutionary Guard navy that could threaten Israel are currently in the Mediterranean. However, conceivably, long-range cruise and ballistic missiles could be fired at targets in the Mediterranean from Lebanese or Syrian bases as they have been launched against Red Sea shipping from Houthi territory.

In 2006, Hizbullah shot a Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship cruise missile from the Lebanese coast that almost sank an Israeli missile boat, the Hanit. Today, Hizbullah naval weapons could include Iranian ship drones and even mini-submarines.

Nasrallah's message is directed at all regional players in the Middle East and the international community supporting Israel. Some suspect that he, alongside Iran, plan to impose a significant naval blockade on Israel in the Mediterranean Sea.

Since the beginning of the war, Iran and Hizbullah have been preparing for this move, with the threat to Cyprus being part of Nasrallah's plans.

Without an air force, Hizbullah relies on its large fleet of UAVs, aiming to neutralize the Israeli Air Force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli Air Force bases and against radar and air defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah's goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers.

Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli Air Force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year. "Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war," Nasrallah said.

Cyprus is 250 km from Lebanon's coast.

Hizbullah officials told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar that Israeli, American, British, and French intelligence delegations met in Cyprus to coordinate military cooperation against Hizbullah and Iran. "Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war," Nasrallah said.

In May 2023, Israel and Cyprus conducted their "Jason-Blue Sun" air exercise, with personnel from the Cypriot National Guard air force command and the Israeli military air force participating.

These meetings, Hizbullah argues, are not about European security but rather to support Israel in conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon and to provide an air defense umbrella similar to what was offered on April 14 when Iran launched over 300 ballistic missiles and UAVs at Israel in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Gen. Mohamad Reza Zahedi in Damascus.

Hizbullah asserts that the British planes based in Cyprus intercepted drones and missiles launched from Iran on April 14, 2024.

Nasrallah views Cyprus as Europe's gateway to Lebanon, holding it directly responsible for any developments.

The United States and European countries are wary of Nasrallah's and Iran's intentions to make the Mediterranean Sea a new conflict zone.

They have already witnessed the capabilities of Iran's proxies in the Red Sea, where Houthi attacks from Yemen on ships and the ongoing blockade on Israel serve as warnings for the Mediterranean.

The Houthis claim to have hit 150 ships linked to Israel so far.

In his first speech following the outbreak of war on October 7, Nasrallah warned the United States of harming its fleet after President Biden announced the deployment of two aircraft carriers to the area. ESR

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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