Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Fear the Double Threat of Hezbollah and ISIS

An Israeli soldier stands guard at a check point near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon October 8, 2014. Baz Ratner/Reuters

These past couple of weeks have been quiet ones in Israel as Israelis celebrate the Jewish holidays. Over the weekend Tel Aviv – the city that never pauses – came to a complete stop for Yom Kippur. For 25 hours, not a car moved along Tel Aviv's streets, not a store or restaurant was open, and pollution levels dropped 99 percent.

Tomorrow night begins another holiday, the festival of Sukkot. Most Israelis were expecting to spend these weeks concerned about events in the south; about the possibility of Hamas resuming its fire from Gaza. However, that has turned out not to be a major concern – at least for the moment. While Hamas is in no condition to resume firing, suddenly Israelis are looking northward with concern instead.

Today two improvised explosive devices [IEDs] were placed on Israel's border with Lebanon. One device exploded, wounding two Israeli soldiers; the other exploded without causing any harm. What was especially unusual about this incident was the fact that Hezbollah took official responsibility for planting the bombs. Israel retaliated by firing 30 artillery rounds at Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.

The general consensus was that the last thing Hezbollah wants right now is a confrontation with Israel. After all, at the moment many Hezbollah fighters are tied down in Syria fighting on behalf of Bashar Assad's regime. Others Hezbollah loyalists have been fighting elements of ISIS inside Lebanon itself.

To most Israeli observers, it makes no sense at all for Hezbollah to risk any sort of war with Israel at this time, and no credible explanation has been posited. On the other hand, as one Israeli military analyst pointed out on tonight's news broadcast, Israel's military analysts made the same pronouncements about Hamas in the weeks leading up to the summer's war in Gaza.

Israelis look northward and cannot decide which of the evils that lie to our north is of greater concern. There is the Bashad regime in Syria with which we have enjoyed an uneasy ceasefire for 41 years (since the end of the Yom Kippur war.) We were unable to reach a peace agreement with that government, but have lived in relative peace for all these years. However, in the last three years, that regime has murdered over 150,000 of its own citizens, and used chemical weapons on its internal opponents, as the world has watched in horror (though has done nothing to stop the slaughter.)

On Assad's side is Hezbollah: a militia with whom we fought a war eight years ago; a group who, with Iranian help, has sponsored terrorism against Israel and Jews for the past two decades; a militia which has tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel.

As a result of the failure of moderate opponents to overthrow Assad a radical Sunni element developed and now dominates the opposition – i.e. ISIS. Many Israelis compare ISIS to the Nazis. ISIS has engaged in its barbaric killing spree in public, in the light of day. They have been openly proud of their actions. While the Nazis went to a great deal of effort to hide their crimes, ISIS revels in their achievements.

After watching Westerners being beheaded, the United States has finally taken limited actions to try to stop ISIS. Sadly, the news coming from the North in the past 24 hours indicates that American efforts are simply too little, too late to help the Kurds in Northern Syria.

As residents of Tel Aviv prepare to celebrate this upcoming weekend, a certain unease has settled on the city. There is no immediate concern that missiles might once again be fired at the Tel Aviv, (although events today remind us that it would take very little for things on the northern border to spin out of control.) If that happened we would face the large Hezbollah arsenal in the north.

The general unease is, however, based on something different. It is the realization that a pure evil, an evil as bad (or worse) than the of Nazi Germany is growing to our north, with some elements of the raw evil likely located on our borders – and there seems very little the world can do to stop it, at least not at the price the world is willing to pay.

Since its founding, Israel has had to live with war, with disputes, with terror, but never with an evil as profound as that of ISIS. And, while ISIS does not a present an immediate threat to those of us in Israel, the idea that such evil can be so near is truly unsettling.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.