Hezbollah squeezes Israel’s options in Syria

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By Ali Rizk

Hezbollah billboards in Lebanon celebrate Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah and the righteous war against Israeli extremism and fanaticism

The latest developments in the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel leave little room for doubt that a full scale war between the two enemies is highly unlikely.

As we move ahead the issue to keep an eye on will be the intelligence/assassination war and how recent events may alter Israeli assassination operations.

It will therefore be interesting to see how Israel plays it cards to prevent the “axis of evil- stretching from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut” as Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon once described it, from achieving victory in Syria.

There are three main conclusions to draw from what has taken place in the past few weeks that will have a vital role directing the course of the conflict:

Hezbollah can strike at Israel at will

In his latest address Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah spoke of how Israel has always launched attacks and aggressions in the region at its will. Turning to Hezbollah’s retaliation operation in the occupied Shebaa farms which lead to the death of at least two Israeli soldiers, Nasrallah went to great lengths to emphasize how this retaliation came “at the height” of Israel’s state of alert which had been put in place since the day Israel carried out its assassination operation in the occupied Golan Heights against six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian commander in the revolutionary guards.

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Nasrallah highlighted how Hezbollah was able to respond despite the fact that Israel was expecting the response to come and gone to great lengths to prevent it. He also noted how the retaliation came at the same time – approximately 11:30am, – and in the same manner- a missile attack targeting vehicles carrying military personnel. Another important factor to pay attention to is that this ability “to strike at will” comes after Hezbollah’s leader cautioned in a recent televised interview that the resistance axis as a whole- “Tehran- Damascus-Beirut”- reserved the right to respond if Israel were to launch another air-raid on Syria.

Hezbollah is more prepared for war than Israel

By quickly claiming responsibility for the Shebaa farms operation Hezbollah indeed showed that it was ready for the “worst case scenario”- which would be a full scale war. This is contrary to the Israeli approach whereby Israel has yet to officially claim responsibility for the Golan Heights assassination operation.

Such an assessment is of the utmost importance amid the claims about Hezbollah being overstretched in Syria and hence unable to fight on two fronts. What’s more is that the Takfiris in Syria are being dealt heavy blows by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, not to mention the fact that US-led coalition attacks in Syria, while limited, have focused on targeting terrorists and not Syrian government targets.

At the same time there appears to be an increasing orientation in the West to abandon the “Assad stepping down” condition, and to recognize the Syrian president as a de-facto partner in the fight against Takfiri terror. In light of such a scenario, Israel would find it urgent to intervene and undo this trend, as it would ultimately lead to victory for the “Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis” in Syria. Hezbollah’s readiness to go to war, as one of Syria’s closest allies ,could go a long way in preventing Israel from undoing this trend and increasing its military role in support of the anti-Assad Takfiri forces.

Keep an eye on the assassination war

It appears that Hezbollah’s assessment following these events is that Israel may resort to an escalated assassination campaign. Sayyed Hassan implied as much when he warned Israel that in the event of any Hezbollah member being assassinated, Israel would be held directly responsible and Hezbollah would reserve the right to respond accordingly.

This takes away the “room for denial” which Israel had previously enjoyed, with its “no comment” policy regarding assassination operations. Again the Syrian context is vital here- one way Israel could try and reverse the situation on the battlefield in Syria would be to assassinate high-ranking military planners and commanders from the resistance movement- but in the event that  Hezbollah operative were assassinated, even by Takfiri’s, Israel would be held responsible.

One could draw such a conclusion from how Nasrallah  described  the Takfiris as Israel’s natural ally,, and compared them to the Lahd army in south Lebanon which worked as an agent for Israel. Therefore a new deterrent appears to have been put in place- the deterrence in assassination warfare.

Conclusion

Israeli military action in Syria- whether it is against the Syrian army, members of the Iranian revolutionary guards, or Hezbollah- now carries with it grave costs for Israel. This applies regardless of whether or not this military action comes in the form of air cover for the armed opposition in Syria, or in the form of assassination operations like the latest incident in the occupied Golan Heights.

Is Israel willing to put up with these costs and be the target of repeated operations similar to that launched by Hezbollah in the occupied Shebaa farms? Or will Israel instead focus its efforts on having an upgraded role in training and equipping opposition fighters which may be a less costly approach?

While the answers to these questions are unknown, what is clear and certain is that the events of the past few weeks have greatly complicated Israeli policies and decision making with regards to Syria.

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