Analysis: Was this an act of war?

Neither attack appears to serve as the required casus belli needed to initiate a war against Hezbollah, if it was responsible.

February 13, 2012 21:49
2 minute read.
PEOPLE WALK by the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi

PEOPLE WALK by the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi 390. (photo credit: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)


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On June 6, 1982, Israel launched the First Lebanon War in response to the assassination attempt against ambassador to the United Kingdom Shlomo Argov.

Israel is not about to go to war over the bombing of a diplomatic car in New Delhi and an attempted bombing in Tbilisi. But, if Iran and Hezbollah continue their efforts and succeed in perpetrating a large attack producing greater casualties and devastation, the government will have a difficult time holding itself back.

On the other hand, while Israel will likely not respond militarily this time, it will have to consider the implication of ignoring the attacks and what that will do to the deterrence it has tried to create vis-à-vis Hezbollah following the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Since the assassination of Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008, Israel has known that it was just a matter of time before it would be attacked overseas.

The attacks carried out on Monday were, however, against low-level embassy employees. The one in Tbilisi was against a local employee who is not an Israeli, and the one in New Delhi targeted the wife of the Defense Ministry representative.

This could mean that Hezbollah is having an extremely difficult time in its efforts to attack quality Israeli targets. It could also mean that it is intentionally targeting low-level officials in order to send Israel a message while at the same time not giving it an excuse to launch a counter- offensive, possibly against the group’s infrastructure in Lebanon.

There is, however, concern within the defense establishment that Hezbollah’s growing frustration with its failure to succeed in perpetrating an attack – previous plots have been foiled in Thailand, Azerbaijan and Turkey – could lead the group to escalate its activities and perhaps launch an attack on a larger scale.

Until Monday, a debate had been raging within the Israeli defense establishment on what the appropriate response should be to an overseas attack.

Hezbollah is understood to prefer such an attack – against an embassy, an El Al plane or a consulate – rather than one along the northern border since this would allow it a level of deniability.

There are officials within the defense establishment who believe that such an attack needs to be met by a fierce response.

Just last month, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz warned Hezbollah not to test Israel’s resolve by perpetrating a terror attack against an Israeli target overseas. If Israel does not respond, it could be perceived as a paper tiger.

Other officials believe Israel should not go to war over just any attack, and the country’s reaction would need to depend on the chosen target and of course the outcome, i.e. the number of casualties.

However valuable Mughniyeh was to Hezbollah, the defense establishment believes there are other motives behind the Lebanese group’s desire to attack Israel somewhere overseas.

One of the motives is understood to be part of Iranian efforts to deter the West from launching a military strike against its nuclear facilities by showing the world that its proxy – Hezbollah – can strike anywhere it wants, even as far away as Georgia and India.

This is meant to show the United States, Israel and Europe that retaliation to a strike against Iran will be painful for everyone and will not simply be the launching of rockets and missiles by Hezbollah and Hamas into the Israeli home front.

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