Friday, March 30, 2012

"Like US, Hezbollah Caught in the Middle of Israel-Iran Conflict"

 Abu acknowledges: "...The relationship between Hezbollah and Iran remains complex and opaque, which is why it is worth taking with a grain of salt the analysis of anyone who claims to fully understand its intricacies..."
"... Hezbollah eventually forced Israeli troops out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and again defeated Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War, known in Lebanon as the July War. But even if Hezbollah’s senior leadership continues to pledge its fealty to the supreme leader in Tehran, there is ample reason to doubt Hezbollah is enthusiastic about attacking Israel again.
First, Hezbollah’s core strength long ago ceased to be its relationship with Iran and is instead its relationship with its political constituency in Lebanon, which supports Hezbollah both by voting for its endorsed candidates in elections as well as through financial donations. This constituency, almost exclusively Shiite, was long made up of Lebanon’s economic and political downtrodden, but it is much wealthier today than it was in the early 1980s. People living in southern Lebanon and the predominantly Shiite suburbs of southern Beirut have a lot more to lose, materially, today than they did even in the 1990s. Hezbollah knows this, and it knows the war in 2006 was painful for its constituency. This might explain why the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made the extraordinary concession after the war’s conclusion that he would not have ordered the July 12 kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that triggered the fighting had he known that the consequences would be so severe.
Second, Israelis worried in the aftermath of the war in 2006 that they had lost their deterrence capability. Never again, they fretted, will our Arab enemies take us seriously. They could not have been more wrong. From the perspective of Hezbollah, each major Israeli offensive on Lebanon since the end of the Lebanese Civil War has been progressively more severe. Operation Accountability of 1993 was a brutal air and artillery campaign that destroyed more than 6,000 homes in southern Lebanon. Operation Grapes of Wrath of 1996 was likewise an air and artillery campaign, but one that also targeted civilian infrastructure in Beirut. And during the 2006 war, Israeli air and ground forces struck all over Lebanon, killing more than a thousand Lebanese and displacing hundreds of thousands more, while destroying billions of dollars worth of infrastructure. None of these punitive campaigns accomplished any of Israel’s immediate objectives. They were all, in a sense, failures. But all of them laid the groundwork for a pretty credible deterrent threat. When Israeli commanders speak of destroying the entirety of the southern suburbs of Beirut in a new campaign, as they did in 2006, Lebanese and Hezbollah leaders must take them at their word. 
Third, while Israel did not, in fact, lose its deterrent capability in 2006, the Iranians just might have. Israelis weathered the war in 2006 relatively well, with very few civilian casualties despite a 34-day bombardment of northern Israel by Hezbollah’s missiles. If the cost of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which Israel considers to be an existential threat, were a similar assault from southern Lebanon, that would be a price Israel could live with. If Iran was counting on Hezbollah to intimidate Israel into not attacking Iran, that strategy has obviously failed.
I nonetheless believe that Hezbollah will strike Israel if the latter attacks Iran. The relationship between Hezbollah and Iran remains complex and opaque, which is why it is worth taking with a grain of salt the analysis of anyone who claims to fully understand its intricacies. But the financial, political and ideological ties between the two sides’ senior leadership will likely trump any constraints imposed by Hezbollah’s war-weary constituency. 
More interesting than the question of whether or not Hezbollah will strike Israel is the question of how it might do so. An expansion of the battlefield beyond southern Lebanon and northern Israel to Israeli targets abroad, such as embassies, might be one option Hezbollah would consider ...
Another scenario, also quite possible, is one in which Israel pre-empts any action by Hezbollah by attacking targets in Lebanon -- specifically, sites suspected of housing Hezbollah’s medium-range rockets -- simultaneous to an attack on Iran. Such a pre-emptive attack would almost certainly trigger a response in the form of Hezbollah rockets. Previously, analysts had worried that a new war between Israel and Hezbollah would spill over into Syria, but the ongoing crisis there makes that less likely.
In the end, Hezbollah finds itself in much the same position as the United States as it watches the clouds of war gather between Israel and Iran. Like the United States, it has reason to hope conflict can be averted. But like the United States, it is realistic about the likelihood that it will be drawn into a conflict once the first shots are fired."

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