Israeli Prime Minster Yair Lapid Visits France, Meets with Macron on Iran, Hezbollah

Israeli Prime Minster Yair Lapid Visits France, Meets with Macron on Iran, Hezbollah

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Israeli Prime Minster Yair Lapid Visits France, Meets with Macron on Iran, Hezbollah 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid paid a visit to France this week, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Hezbollah and Iran. The meeting was planned weeks ago, before Lapid assumed the post of prime minister from his predecessor and coalition partner Naftali Bennett. 

Particularly in light of Hezbollah launching three drones towards Karish gas field, Lapid will look to send a stern message to the group during his meeting Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, a senior Israeli official said on Monday night. “We want the French president to use his connections to make clear to the Lebanese government we intend to complete the negotiations,” said the official, referring to indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon over the maritime boundary between the countries. “We want to do it, but we won’t be able to do it under Hezbollah threats.” “Hezbollah should not play with fire,” added the official, warning that a strike on a gas platform “could be a very dangerous act.”  

“The prime minister will present new materials that will explain how Hezbollah endangers Lebanon’s security and stability,” the official said. In addition to the warning to Hezbollah, Israel hopes Macron will send a more conciliatory message to Lebanon’s government. “The message we want to be sent to them is that it would extremely beneficial for them to take advantage of the present opportunity,” said the official, stressing U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein’s active involvement in the maritime border issue.

“We can get to an agreement,” said the official, “if they don’t let Hezbollah get in the way.”

If the group continues threatening Israel’s gas fields, warned the official, “it could cause a deterioration that we are not interested in.”

Lapid also discussed the Iran nuclear issue at length with Macron, citing a 2018 speech Macron gave calling for a new deal with Iran. But Macron did not react to that remark, instead defending the existing Iran nuclear deal while saying that it is important to listen to Israel’s concerns. “We expect that there will be some end to these never-ending talks,” stressed an Israeli official to reporters this week.  

Israel Downs Drones Launched by Hezbollah at Karish Gas Field 

The Israel Defenses Forces said Saturday it successfully intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah towards the Karish gas field. One of the Hezbollah aircraft was downed by an F16 fighter jet, and the other two by Barak 8 missiles launched from the Saar 5 Class Corvette INS Eilat, the military said in a statement. Saturday’s incident marked the first operational drone interception by Barak 8 missiles from a navy ship. The UAVs were intercepted “at a safe distance from” the drilling platform, according to defense officials.  

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah recently threatened Israel over plans to extract gas from the contested offshore reserve, saying that his organization is capable of preventing such action, including by force. But the military said a preliminary investigation showed that the drones did not pose a “real threat” at any point during their flight, indicating they were not armed and instead were used for surveillance purposes or to prove they have the capability.  

The terror group later confirmed it launched the three unarmed drones, saying they were intended to carry out a “reconnaissance mission” in the area. Hezbollah added that the mission was accomplished successfully and said, “a message was conveyed.”

Military spokesman Ran Kochav told the Kan public radio on Sunday morning that the terror group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, “thought he would catch [Israel] off-guard.” “But we are ready, in terms of our early warning systems, and in terms of intelligence, the Navy and Air Force, to protect Israel’s assets,” Kochav said. He said Hezbollah “suffered a significant operational setback” in its thwarted attempt to convey a message to Israel.  

Lebanese politicians softly criticized the move by Hezbollah. In an implicit rebuke, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Abou Habib said Monday any interference in U.S.-mediated talks to demarcate its maritime border with Israel is "unacceptable." "Any act that falls outside the framework of the state's responsibility and the diplomatic track within which negotiations are taking place, is unacceptable and exposes [Lebanon] to unnecessary risks," he said. Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati similarly tacitly rebuked the group, calling it a risky move done without government coordination amid talks over the countries' maritime border. "The launching of drones was carried out without any coordination with the Lebanese government, outside its purview and in contrast to diplomatic efforts and ongoing talks in advanced stages to reach an agreement on the maritime border," Mikati said in a statement.  

Relatedly, i24 News reported that an investigation by the Israeli news site’s senior military and security correspondent Matthias Inbar revealed that the drone footage of Karish field published by Hezbollah, ostensibly filmed by its UAVs, was fake. Inbar demonstrated that the video of Karish was actually taken by Hezbollah from a promotional video released by the rig’s owner, Energean. In a Twitter thread, Inbar provided a link to the promotional YouTube video from Energean, which showed the exact same aerial footage that was seen in the Hezbollah video. The only difference was that Hezbollah added some drone target graphics. On Wednesday, Israeli media reported that, the week before, the Israel Defense Forces had downed another, separate, drone launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli economic waters.  

Israel’s Defense Minister Reveals Iran’s Red Sea Deployment

On Tuesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed satellite imagery at the Economist Government Roundtable in Greece showing the “most significant” Iranian military maritime activity in a decade in the Red Sea area. Gantz stated that “Iran is expanding its activities in the maritime arena. Over the last year, Iran has seized international tankers and attacked vessels. Today, we can confirm that Iran is methodically basing itself in the Red Sea, with warships patrolling the southern region.” The ships he revealed included the Hengam (a landing ship); the Bandar Abbas (an auxiliary ship); and the Mowj (a frigate ship). This increased Iranian deployment comes as the United States has taken the lead in establishing a new international naval task force spearheaded by the U.S. Fifth Fleet named Combined Task Force 153 to patrol those very waterways.

Separately, on Thursday, the United Kingdom and the United States revealed that in early 2022, while undertaking routine maritime security operations, Royal Navy ship HMS Montrose seized Iranian weapons from speedboats being operated by smugglers in international waters south of Iran. The arms seized were surface-to-air missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles, which were in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216. This was the first time a British naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran. The United States participated in the operation as well.


Israel Strikes in Syria, Russia

Israel carried out a rare daylight airstrike along the southern Syrian coast on Saturday morning, Syria’s state-run broadcaster SANA said, injuring two people. Quoting a military source, SANA said the missiles were launched by Israeli fighter jets over the Mediterranean Sea, west of the north Lebanon city of Tripoli, at the Syrian town of al-Hamidiyah, south of Tartus. The relatively rare daytime strike on Saturday targeted an area near the Syrian town of al-Hamidiyah, south of Tartus, which is home to Russia’s main naval base in the region. Two civilians were injured and serious damage was caused to civilian infrastructure, according to Russia.

According to SANA, “poultry farms” were targeted in the airstrike, and two civilians were hurt. Their conditions were not immediately clear. Damage was also caused to the site. Syria often claims targets of Israeli strikes as being non-military. While alleged Israeli attacks in Syria typically take place under the cover of darkness, Saturday’s strike was allegedly conducted at around 6:30 a.m. while the sun was out, according to SANA.

Moscow on Monday condemned the alleged Israeli airstrike, which struck near a Russian stronghold in Syria, calling Israel’s years-long air campaign in Syria “categorically unacceptable” and demanding it cease. “We strongly condemn such irresponsible actions that violate the sovereignty of Syria and the basic norms of international law, and we demand their unconditional cessation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

Separately on Wednesday, Syrian media reports claimed an Israeli airstrike in the village of Hader near Quneitra Province. One individual by the name of Farid Fuad Mustafa was killed. He was a member of a militia supported by the Syrian army.

This week, Israeli media and the Intelli Times blog also revealed that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official in charge of deploying advanced Iranian air defense systems in Lebanon and Syria is Brigadier General Fereydoun Mohammadi Saghaei, who is the deputy coordinator of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force. According to Al-Arabiya, Saghaei has traveled to Damascus to discuss the deployment and some websites implicate Saghaei in playing a central role in the downing of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020, which killed 176 passengers and crew.