Is Hezbollah trying to draw Israel into a ground offensive?
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Analysis

Is Hezbollah trying to draw Israel into a ground offensive?

The Lebanese group stands to gain from inflicting Israeli casualties while portraying Syrian rebels as IDF collaborators

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

IDF soldiers on the Golan Heights, January 21, 2015 (Basal Awidat/Flash90
IDF soldiers on the Golan Heights, January 21, 2015 (Basal Awidat/Flash90

It may be too soon to point to a new, cohesive Hezbollah strategy along Israel’s northern border. And yet, repeated rocket fire at Israeli targets in the Golan Heights Tuesday prompts speculation that the Shiite terror group and its ally, the Syrian regime, are seeking to draw Israel into a ground offensive.

In the aftermath of the killing of Hezbollah commander Jihad Mughniyeh and Iranian general Mohammad Ali Allahdadi (along with 10 others) in an alleged Israeli airstrike on January 18, prevailing wisdom was that Hezbollah, bent on revenge, would try to launch a major campaign against Israel, if not along the border than by attacking Jewish targets abroad.

But it may well be that the Lebanese organization is initiating a different campaign, one that would be somewhat surprising, although it would not necessarily preclude hits on Israeli targets or Jewish targets outside Israel: the repeated shelling of Israeli communities from the Syrian Golan Heights with the aim of drawing in Israeli ground forces.

Indeed, although it seems counterintuitive, there may be some in Hezbollah who hope to see Israeli tanks entering Syrian territory and hitting Syrian military targets.

The shelling has so far succeeded in only slightly disrupting routine life in the Golan Heights and closing the Hermon ski resort for several hours. But one can assume that if Hezbollah was indeed behind the attacks, as some in Israel claim, it won’t be the last such strike by the terror group’s contingent in the Syrian Golan.

The next stage, as far as Hezbollah is concerned, could be to try to further upset the security situation by firing rockets sporadically into the Israeli Golan Heights, in a manner that may force the IDF to send troops deep into Syrian territory.

This would make it easier for Hezbollah to exact Israeli casualties and at the same time focus Arab public opinion on the battles in the Golan Heights, distracting it from the daily acts of carnage perpetrated by Assad loyalists.

Furthermore, if Hezbollah manages to draw Israel into committing even a small number of troops to a ground incursion in the Syrian Golan Heights, the Sunni radical groups Islamic State and al Nusra Front will be in the problematic position of being portrayed as collaborators with Israel in its battle against the Assad regime and its Lebanese ally.

The rockets fired at the Golan Heights constitute a serious challenge for Israel. On the one hand Jerusalem seeks to deter Hezbollah from continuing to disrupt life in the north. On the other, too aggressive a response will prompt Hezbollah to escalate its attacks in a manner that may leave Israel no choice but to deploy ground troops, furthering the goals of Assad and the rest of the Shiite axis.

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