In January 2006, after Hamas won general elections in the Palestinian Authority, Israeli intelligence officials spoke of a jealous Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah who was watching Ismail Haniyeh become prime minister as he continued moving among his different hideouts in Beirut as the head of a so-called guerrilla organization.

Following Tuesday’s announcement that Hizbullah confidant Najib Mikati would form the next Lebanese government, there is no question that Nasrallah is no longer the jealous one. Haniyeh is confined to the Gaza Strip, where he is busy trying to solidify his regime in the wake of Operation Cast Lead and continued diplomatic isolation. Nasrallah, on the other hand, got to play kingmaker in Lebanon on Tuesday.

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For Israel, this is a troubling development and an example of how Iran is tightening its grip on Lebanon. It also demonstrates the continued formation of a Shi’ite crescent which begins in Iran, continues to Syria and ends in Lebanon.

A government led by Hizbullah will likely remove any prospect of a future normalization of ties with Israel and make even basic moves like the implementation of an Israeli withdrawal from the split town of Ghajar more difficult.

On the other hand, Hizbullah’s effective takeover of Lebanon also creates a window of opportunity for Israel and could actually bolster its deterrence and force Hizbullah to be more restrained.

From a military perspective, a Lebanon controlled by Hizbullah potentially changes the bank of targets Israel will have at its disposal in the event of a future war with the guerrilla group.

In the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, Israel, for the most part, refrained from bombing Lebanese national infrastructure, as well as government and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) targets. Israel was willing to make the distinction in 2006, since it understood that Lebanon as a country was being held hostage by Hizbullah the guerrilla group.

This changed slightly after the war when Hizbullah entered the government, but on Tuesday it went a step further.

A future war with Hizbullah – either as a result of an Israeli attack on Iran, or unrelated – would be met by a different Israeli military response, one that could really set Lebanon back by several decades this time, as chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz threatened after reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were kidnapped on July 12, 2006.

Hizbullah’s position in the government will restrain the guerrilla group. Now that it is not only part of the government, but basically the official leader of Lebanon with a prime minister in Nasrallah’s pocket, Hizbullah will have to think twice before launching an attack against Israel – one that would bring devastating consequences to the Land of Cedars.

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