Tensions high along Israel-Syria border but nobody wants war

Although neither Hezbollah, bogged down in Syria, nor Israel, having so recently fought Hamas in the Gaza Strip last summer, appear eager for it, conflict remains a possibility.

May 3, 2015 04:05
3 minute read.
Golan Heights

Israeli soldiers stand near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Tensions have flared along Israel’s northern border for the second time this year, following a suspected Israeli Air Force attack on weapon deliveries to Hezbollah. Days later, when Hezbollah gunmen tried to plant an explosive device on the Israeli border, an Israeli air strike killed the four men.

Most Middle East analysts say that neither Israel nor Hezbollah wants a war.

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“An escalation with Israel is the last thing that Hezbollah wants,” Mario Abou Zeid, from the Carnegie Middle East Center, based in Beirut told The Media Line. “It would mean being caught between two fronts.”

He said Hezbollah fighters have invested heavily in the Syrian conflict on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and hundreds have been killed. Abou Zeid said the Shi’ite militia were demanding that official security forces take on more roles in domestic Lebanese security – tasks that previously Hezbollah had overseen. That, he said, is proof that the fighters feel they are stretched too thin.

Abou Zeid dismissed any notion that Hezbollah might have been strengthened by fighting in Syria. Three years of support for the Assad regime had taught Hezbollah to organize itself and fight as a conventional army but this would not be useful in a conflict against Israel, he said. Hezbollah could not face the Israeli army through maneuver warfare, where the latter’s superior firepower, technology and heavier equipment would prove superior. Instead it would have to rely on guerilla tactics, says Abou Zeid, as it did during its conflict with Israel in 2006 which ended after more than a month in a draw. Fighting from urbanized areas, screening their forces amongst civilians, conducting hit and run attacks and launching rockets at civilian targets in Israel - tactics similar to those used by Hamas in the summer of 2014. This makes the experience gained in Syria less valuable than the blood spilt and treasure lost to gain it, Abou Zeid explained.

But other analysts say Israel should worry about the experience Hezbollah has gained.

“It doesn’t matter than they will fight Israel non-conventionally and that they have been learning conventional warfare in Syria,” Moshe Maoz, an Israeli expert on Syria at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “The two spheres blend into one another. They have lost men in Syria but overall they are stronger from the conflict.”

In addition in fighting in Lebanon they have the advantage of territory they know, and can hide in caves and bunkers. Maoz says Hezbollah is acting as a proxy for Iran and that it is Iran that will determine if and when Hezbollah attacks Israel.

The size and capability of Hezbollah’s weapon stockpiles is a significant factor in any estimation of a future conflict – one of the reasons that Israel has upheld its red line policy on the shipment of advanced weapon systems to Hezbollah. Most analysts say that Hezbollah has 100,000 short, medium and long-range rockets that can reach all parts of Israel.

For his part Abou Zeid is less impressed with the likely strength of Hezbollah’s weapon stockpiles. They “still have strategic rockets but not enough,” he says, explaining that such types of munitions are difficult to move covertly around the country, due to their size. “These are large shipments, convoys of vehicles… (that) have to get past Israeli drone and satellite surveillance.” When pushed to make an assessment on how many weapons are able to slip past Israeli interdiction attempts, Abou Zeid says “Israel stops maybe five out of ten.”

He does not believe that Iran wants to provoke a confrontation with Israel that could jeopardize its recently agreed nuclear deal, at least not before June when it will be signed. Although Iran pressured Hezbollah to retaliate against Israel following the death of Iranian General Mohammed Allahdadi last January in a presumed Israeli strike, it is unlikely to do so now.

Despite such breaks on the willingness of the parties involved to seek confrontation, one other factor must be kept in mind - the law of unintended consequences. Unintentional escalation appears to be the most likely reason that a conflict could erupt in the near future on Israel’s northern border.

Although neither Hezbollah, bogged down in Syria, nor Israel, having so recently fought Hamas in the Gaza Strip last summer, appear eager for it, conflict remains a possibility. Such a conflict would likely be bloody and expensive for civilians in both Israel and Lebanon and could further destabilize a region reeling from the reverberations of the Arab Spring.

For more stories from The Media Line visit: http://www.themedialine.org/

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