Analysis: Hezbollah will respond, the question is how forcefully

These days, the northern front includes Lebanon and Syria, as intertwined arenas that are no longer distinct.

January 20, 2015 06:14
1 minute read.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a rare public appearance in Beirut, November 3. (photo credit: REUTERS)

There can be little doubt that Hezbollah’s leadership, acting in conjunction with its masters in Tehran, will order a response to the air strike that killed senior members of the Lebanese terrorist organization and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

As is well known, Hezbollah has in recent years moved into Syria with Iran’s help, but what is less known is that Hezbollah exploited its new Syrian presence to begin creating a second front against Israel, alongside its traditional home base of southern Lebanon.

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Sunday’s air strike, attributed by international media to Israel, should be seen as a preemptive act of self-defense aimed at thwarting an Iranian- sponsored Hezbollah terrorist network that was plotting a series of deadly attacks, including rockets, anti-tank fire, and cross-border infiltrations.

Despite the inherently defensive nature of the strike, Hezbollah can be expected to feel obligated to retaliate, following the barrage of warnings by its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, and its more brazen activities on the Lebanese border, aimed at signaling to Israel that deterrence from the 2006 Second Lebanon War is wearing thin.

The question that now remains is the extent of Hezbollah’s future attack. A relatively minor assault may result in a proportionate Israeli reply, which could in turn produce an end to the sequence of attacks, and a containment of the incident. Hezbollah has nothing to gain from opening a second front against Israel, at a time when it remains deeply embroiled in its costly intervention in Syria and the war against Sunni rebels.

A large-scale Hezbollah attack would, however, open the door to a rapid deterioration of the northern front. The same is true of a mass casualty terrorist attack by Hezbollah targeting Israelis overseas, which could result in direct Israeli reprisals in Lebanon.

These days, the northern front includes Lebanon and Syria, as intertwined arenas that are no longer distinct. As a result, the situation is more explosive than in the past. Tensions are running high, and the stakes are even higher.

Any miscalculation runs the risk of igniting a regional conflict.

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