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Analysis

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More violence along Israel’s northern border could be in the offing, with Hezbollah and Iran attempting to impose new rules on Jerusalem and Beirut

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.

A Lebanese farmer puts in a line mortar shells collected from a field in the Lebanese village of al-Wazzani near the divided village of Ghajar along the Lebanese-Israeli border on January 29, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT)
A Lebanese farmer puts in a line mortar shells collected from a field in the Lebanese village of al-Wazzani near the divided village of Ghajar along the Lebanese-Israeli border on January 29, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT)

It could have ended very differently. If the IDF death toll in Wednesday’s Hezbollah attack on Mount Dov had been higher, as was initially believed, Israel and Hezbollah could have found themselves on the road to all-out war.

Had Yochai Kalangel and Dor Chaim Nini not been the only casualties, the public would have expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to respond aggressively against Hezbollah.

With election season in full swing, it’s hard to believe they would have been indifferent to such pressure.

Thankfully for all sides, two dead soldiers, as cynical as this may sound, is a cost Netanyahu and Ya’alon can absorb, especially when the alternative is entirely unpleasant – an escalation of tensions with Hezbollah.

The Lebanese group has already clarified that it wants calm. At least for now. That was the unambiguous message given to UNIFIL officials.

The organization supposedly avenged last week’s assassinations of its commanders, allegedly by Israel, a narrative reflected Thursday morning in Lebanese media outlets affiliated with Hezbollah.

But it’s possible Hezbollah, and even more so the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, will try to carry out a much larger revenge attack.

And Israel will doubtless have to act again against various Iranian-Syrian-Lebanese forces trying to carry out attacks or smuggle advanced weapons, and Hezbollah will feel the pressure to respond to those Israeli actions.

The new rules

On Thursday morning, Samy Kalib, a commentator in the newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, described the goal of Wednesday’s attack and the new rules of the game.

Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah sought to send a message to Israel, Kalib wrote, that the period when Hezbollah would not respond to Israeli attacks has passed.

Second, Hezbollah proved it had the ability to reach Israeli soldiers despite the high level of alert on the Israeli side and despite the fact that very little time had passed since the January 18 attack on the Syrian Golan that killed Jihad Mughniyeh and the Iranian general Muhammad Ali Allahdadi.

Third, Hezbollah is creating a balance of terror with Israel and clarifying that it has not surrendered the front with the “Zionist enemy,” despite being occupied with other battles in Syria and Iraq.

In Kalib’s view, the most important message Hezbollah sought to deliver to Israel was that it was no longer possible to separate the Syrian and the Lebanese fronts, and in fact Hezbollah’s revenge was not just for Mughniyeh’s death, but for the Iranian and Syrian blood spilled in the alleged Israeli attack as well.

Hezbollah’s revenge, then, was that Israel was getting Iran on its border, Kalib writes – and leaves unstated the unmistakable significance: that Israel will pay a higher price than before for any attempt to remove this presence.

Indeed, he writes, Hezbollah’s response even opens greater maneuvering room for the Iranian team negotiating with Western powers over the future of Tehran’s nuclear program, indicating that those high level meetings in European capitals were also taken into account.

And of course, one can’t escape Lebanese politics. The Hezbollah-affiliated commentator explains that it is Hezbollah that must decide the time and place for attacking Israel, without any heed paid to what is happening in Beirut.

“Hezbollah wants to say to the ‘Lebanese interior’ that the conflict with Israel is distinct from the other issues, even if [Hezbollah] acts against Resolution 1701, which serves as an excuse for the Lebanese to disarm the organization.”

Or in other words, the message delivered by Hezbollah and Iran to the other groups and communities in Lebanon: “We don’t care what you think.”

And perhaps this Hezbollah-linked commentator is trying to hint that Lebanon has already become an Iranian territory under Hezbollah control.

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