There have been growing concerns of a new miscalculation by the Hezbollah leader.
By Naftali Granot/JPost.com
A series of recent articles and analyses in the Israeli media have warned about the possibility of a multi-front war breaking out between Israel and a coalition of terrorist organizations led by Hezbollah. This coalition also includes pro-Iranian militias (in Syria, Iraq and Yemen), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and terrorists in the West Bank.
The risk assessments are based on the noticeable increase in tensions initiated by Hezbollah along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Recent incidents include a Hezbollah-ordered terrorist cross-border infiltration into Israel and the planting of a high-powered explosive at a busy intersection; setting up tents in Israeli territory in the Mount Dov area; the firing of an anti-tank missile at a military target near the border village of Ghajar; and the deliberately overt deployment of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit to the Israeli border.
As a result of these provocations, as well as belligerent declarations by Nasrallah, there have been growing concerns of a new miscalculation by the Hezbollah leader, similar to the kidnapping of IDF soldiers that preceded the 2006 Second Lebanon War. A new miscalculation could deteriorate the region into a major and costly war with many casualties.
What Is Behind Hezbollah’s Growing Confidence?
Nasrallah’s growing self-confidence is based on the perception that Israel today would find it difficult to garner internal and international public support for military maneuvers in Lebanon. The lack of Israeli responses to Hezbollah’s provocations is seen as evidence of this strategic weakness.
Hezbollah views the legal reform initiated by the Israeli government, which many in Israel perceive as a judicial coup, as significantly weakening social cohesion in Israel, and it has not failed to notice the deep divisions between the government and sections of the public serving in the IDF.
The erosion of two core aspects of the IDF’s power—the air force and intelligence—because of the cessation of volunteer reserve service on the part of thousands of experienced combat personnel and pilots is expected to worsen towards the end of the year when a renewal of the push for judicial reform may take place. This could lead to a severe impairment of the IDF’s operational capability, creating a temptation for Hezbollah to exploit the situation and challenge the IDF.
Meanwhile, Israel’s construction of a large land barrier on the Lebanese border, similar to the one erected on the Gaza border, also contributes to rising tensions. Hezbollah has accused Israel of trying to create facts on the ground by marking out the disputed land border and ignoring Lebanese protests.
At the same time, the current political, social and economic reality in Lebanon serves as a catalyst for Hezbollah’s decision to generate tensions and take aggressive steps on the Israeli border. The political deadlock between Hezbollah and the Christian and Sunni camps has—for many months—prevented the election of a president and the establishment of a legitimate and functioning Lebanese government.
The economic collapse in Lebanon, due to its inability to obtain loans from the World Bank, resulting in severe unemployment and shortage of electricity, fuel, medications etc., is causing a humanitarian crisis and negative migration. An atmosphere of despair is prevalent, and the blame has been pointed at Hezbollah, which has taken over the country, with Iranian assistance.
Hezbollah sees itself as Lebanon’s protective shield and the defender of Lebanon’s interests against Israel, in a way that justifies the provocations over land-border disputes with Israel—just as during the Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute in 2022.
Another factor stoking tensions on the Lebanon border is Hamas. Faithful to its policy of igniting additional conflict arenas with Israel (besides the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has an interest in maintaining quiet), Hamas has, in recent years, built a military infrastructure in Lebanon from where it has fired projectiles at Israel on several occasions.
Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ are coordinating—with Iranian orchestration—strategy against Israel and have even made public declarations about a “unity of fronts,” meaning that a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah would lead to a broader conflict that will include the Palestinian organizations in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Iranian-backed militias. This would lead to a multi-arena war against Israel.
Despite Israel’s efforts to thwart weapons smuggling efforts in Syria, it is important to take into account that in recent years, Hezbollah has grown more militarily powerful. It has smuggled high-quality arms from Iran, while improving the accuracy of its missile and air defense systems, improving its offensive cyber capabilities, and strengthening its elite ground forces (Radwan) which gained operational experience in the Syrian civil war.
As such, it appears that conditions are ripe for a “perfect storm,” as threatened by the leaders of both sides. This is a possibility that scares civilian populations on both sides of the border.
And yet, an examination of restraining factors reveals a completely different picture.
On the Israeli side, the reality that has emerged in recent months as a result of government legislation has weakened the IDF and harmed Israel’s deterrent image in a way that would prevent rational Israeli decision-makers from getting involved in a significant military conflict. Due to this internal crisis, the government has lost its legitimacy to launch war.
The likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran, a scenario that forms the main trigger event for war with Hezbollah, has also significantly decreased.
On the Lebanese side, Hezbollah does not enjoy internal Lebanese support for a new war that would inevitably lead to the destruction of a country that is already struggling to survive, and to a vast wave of refugees. Lebanese public opinion also opposes the military presence of Palestinian groups on Lebanese soil.
As for Hezbollah itself, beyond the militant rhetoric aimed mainly inwardly at its Shi’ite Lebanese base, and broader public opinion in Lebanon, it currently has no interest in becoming entangled in a head-on confrontation with Israeli military power. It would bear direct responsibility for the destruction and suffering that would be inflicted on the Shi’ite community and all Lebanese citizens.
Hezbollah aims to strengthen its deterrent image vis-à-vis Israel by creating a strong and reliable “balance of terror.”
Nasrallah’s brinkmanship has brought him many achievements, boosting his status in Lebanon and the Arab world. But he has not forgotten the lessons of the 2006 war.
Neither side has an interest in initiating war at this time, and one should take into consideration that threats by both sides are meant to increase mutual deterrence and serve internal political needs, rather than reflecting real intentions to start a war.
The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He concluded his intelligence career as deputy director of the Mossad in 2007.