Analysis: Israel risks provoking Hezbollah with one airstrike too many

This week, foreign media reported that the IAF hit Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. But what good does it do to destroy a few missiles when the price is liable to be another conflagration on the northern border?

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“A Bridge Too Far” is the title of a book and a movie depicting the failed attack launched by the Allies in an attempt to roll back the Nazi occupation of Holland. The American and British forces succeeded in taking control of all the bridges that were vital in enabling the forces to cross the various bodies of water, yet the commanders insisted on conquering one bridge too many. The entire operation was a failure.
This is what is liable to happen to Israel in the wake of Monday’s night’s airstrike in Lebanon, which foreign media sources attribute to the IAF. The bombing runs targeted Hezbollah posts near the border that divides Lebanon and Syria. According to reports, the IAF destroyed a convoy of vehicles carrying sophisticated missiles. Some reports claimed that the attack had targeted a weapons cache. For over a year, the IAF – at least according to foreign media reports – has been destroying arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah. There have reportedly been five or six such attacks.
The targets of these airstrikes are what Israel has deemed “weapons that tilt the strategic balance,” namely anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-sea missiles, and precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles. Israel has never officially acknowledged carrying out these attacks. Instead, it has opted to maintain a veil of opacity.
Jerusalem is exploiting the weakness of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which is mired in a bloody civil war. Israel is taking calculated risks based on the working assumption that there will be no response to the strikes.
But the attack this week was different. Thus far, all of the attacks have been against targets on Syrian soil. This time, defense officials decided it was appropriate to take another risk and hit targets inside Lebanon. This constitutes a violation of the agreement that brought an end to the Second Lebanon War. Yes, both sides have committed violations of the agreement.
Israel has supposedly been flying missions in Lebanese airspace, while Hezbollah has refused to decommission its weapons while continuing to amass an arsenal of missiles. It may very well come to pass that this time, also, an IAF strike will be met with no retaliation. Israeli officials may then say that taking the calculated risk proved to be the right thing to do.
Hezbollah, however, has already let it be known that Israel violated the agreement, and that it intends to respond. Yes, Hezbollah has been weakened, much like Assad’s regime. But is it wise on Israel’s part to pull the rope too far and provoke the Shi’ite organization?
In any event, Military Intelligence commander Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi has already said that there are 170,000 missiles and rockets pointed in Israel’s direction. Of those, 100,000 of them belong to Hezbollah. So what good does it do to destroy a few missiles when the price is liable to be another conflagration on the border with Lebanon?