Tensions in the North: Not war – yet

Wednesday’s events do not mean a full-scale war is inevitable, but it is now a few steps closer.

IDF soldiers near border with Lebanon. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers near border with Lebanon.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the heart of the increasingly deadly escalation on the northern border is an attempt by Hezbollah and Iran to set up a dangerous terrorist base in southern Syria. The base is meant to target the North with rockets, bombs and death squads.
The air strike last week targeting key Hezbollah and Iranian figures, attributed by international media to Israel, was a defensive step, designed to eliminate a developing threat to Israeli security that was engineered by Iran and built by its Lebanese servant, Hezbollah.
Both of these belligerent Shi’ite actors have spread deep into Syria since coming to the aid of their embattled and shrinking ally, the Assad regime, in recent years. They have begun to exploit their increased presence in Syria to expand their front of anti-Israel jihad, broadening it from southern Lebanon – Hezbollah’s home base – to southern Syria.
Wednesday’s attack consisted of mortar fire from Syria and missile fire from Lebanon, showing how the Lebanese- Syria border has become irrelevant, and how the two arenas have merged into one front. Israel will not sit by contently and watch the formation of a new Iranian base on the Syrian Golan, right on its doorstep.
Now, Hezbollah and Israel are trading blows in the north in an increasingly deadly exchange that has already claimed the lives of two IDF soldiers protecting their country, as well as that of a UN peacekeeper from Spain.
Wednesday’s events do not mean a full-scale war is inevitable, but it is now a few steps closer.
Neither side has an interest in all-out war. Iran may wish to reserve Hezbollah’s massive firepower capability – made up of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles – for a future battle over its nuclear program.
And Hezbollah is keen on avoiding Israel’s devastating firepower. A clash with Israel would leave Hezbollah exposed to its numerous Sunni enemies in next-door Syria, as well as to an angry Lebanese public, which is very keen on avoiding a conflict with Israel.
Israel, too, has no desire to see its home front exposed to heavy Hezbollah rocket assaults that could leave daily life here paralyzed for a lengthy period.
Still, the Middle East of 2015 is a chaotic, heavily armed and unpredictable region, where events increasingly stray from the original goals and intentions of states and semi-states.
For Israel, this confrontation is purely defensive. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is fighting because it wishes to protect its demand to be able to attack Israel from Syria.
Neither side wants to lose control of events, but that is no guarantee that a wider conflict will not follow.