If foreign reports are correct that Israel attacked Hezbollah targets on the Lebanon-Syria border, then it is unlikely an immediate direct response by the Shi’ite organization will be forthcoming, as it is fully focused on helping the Syrian regime survive its civil war.
Hezbollah and Iran are making the utmost effort to keep their ally Syrian President Bashar Assad in power and are adjusting their priorities to focus on this task, not opening up battles on too many fronts.
Writing on the website Now Lebanon, Hanin Ghaddar explained that the fact that Lebanon was able to form a government after many months of stalled negotiations was due to Hezbollah’s flexibility and concessions.
The group gave up key ministries such as Defense, Interior, and Telecommunications, she wrote.
“Hezbollah’s political officials are playing nice in Lebanon while transferring most of its senior military figures across the border,” said Ghaddar.
Hezbollah is so deeply involved in Syria that it has set up a special training camp to train the Syrian army, called the 881 barracks, a Hezbollah brigade commander told Now Lebanon in an interview.
Hezbollah did not directly refer to the attack, but made statements referring to the “Palestinian cause.”
“All that is occurring [in] our arenas will not accomplish our enemies’ goal of diverting our interest and concern from the Palestinian Cause,” said a Hezbollah statement released on Tuesday, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
The group condemned Israeli action after clashes broke out on Tuesday between police and Palestinians at the al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
Such rhetoric is typical for the group and seems to indicate that it wants to avoid any escalation with Israel.
“I think Israel has a strong dual interest. We want to stay out of the Lebanese and Syrian morass as much as possible, but at the same time we cannot allow the transfer of advanced weapons,” said Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel.
While it may not be possible to stop all weapons smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel can try to minimize the threat, Freilich told The Jerusalem Post.
Even though Hezbollah is currently occupied with Syria, “ultimately things will calm down and sooner or later the group will turn their attention back to us,” he said.
Hezbollah is already a severe threat, added Freilich, with a huge arsenal of 100,000 rockets, so Israel should do what it can to prevent Hezbollah from getting advanced weapons.
Joel Parker, a junior researcher who focuses on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that compared to the bands of volunteers fighting for various Islamist groups in Syria, Hezbollah is more of a real army.
“It also has to consider that casualties on the Syrian front and signs of weakness in Lebanon may eventually affect the morale of its base of supporters,” he said.
“I don’t think Israel’s reported attack will affect the Syria war one way or the other, and that has been Israel’s strategy all along,” said Parker noting that the “red line” is limited to weapons transfers to Hezbollah.