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Hezbollah-Israel: Deterrence Re-established

Deterrence is the name of the game between Hezbollah and Israel nowadays. Limited retaliations between the two archenemies are setting new rules of the conflict. After Israel targeted a Hezbollah convoy last week in Syria, Hezbollah retaliated today in a similar manner targeting a military convoy in the contested territories of the Shebaa farms.

The fallout was expected. Hezbollah does not usually leave Israeli aggressions go unanswered. The assassination of top Hezbollah and Iranian combatants in Syria by the Israeli air force was set to redraw new rules of the game; at least that’s what Israel hoped for. Israel targeted arms factories and convoys before and indeed their actions were left with verbal threats on behalf of both the Syrian government and Hezbollah. There were no casualties reported and the losses seemed to be bearable. But the latest Israeli attack was different in kind and nature and for many reasons:

Firstly, the area in which the attack took place is the Golan Heights on the Syrian side where an enraged battle is occurring between the terrorist organization Al-Nusra front and the Syrian army and Hezbollah. The moment when Al-Nusra seems vulnerable Israel steps in to help. Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with foreign affairs lately that Al-Nusra has an Airforce and it’s the IDF (the Israeli “defence” forces). Indeed the working relationship between the two is only getting stronger by the day and Israel currently hosts many of Al-Nusra terrorists in its hospitals.

Secondly, the targeted militants in the convoy were high-ranking officials. What we know so far that a top Iranian General was killed alongside top Hezbollah officials including the son of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s commander in chief assassinated in Syria in 2008. That made the assault even more painful to the Resistance Axis. It also marks the first direct targeting by Israel of an Iranian military official.

Lastly, the assault on the convoy signals the direct implication of Israel in the Syrian war. After attacking some targets in Syria before, Israel always justified it by saying that it targeted weapons that threatened its national security.  A weak Syrian state would only retaliate by threats that were mostly vacant. However, by targeting the Hezbollah convoy Israel was announcing to the public its undergoing, and previously, silent role in the Syrian conflict against the Syrian government and its allies.

The change in the rules of the game by Israel reflects the bind the Zionist state is in. The chaotic nature of the Syrian civil war has generated many new variables that would pose a threat to Israel’s security. For starters, Israel still occupies the Syrian Golan Heights and under UN law resisting such occupation is deemed a legitimate right. Prior to 2011, the Syrian state had monopolized the use of violence and avoided a confrontation with its southern neighbour over the occupied territories. However, with many players involved in Syria’s war and the state losing its monopoly of violence, the idea of a resistance force that attacks the IDF in the heights becomes foreseeable.  The Resistance Axis would not pass such a golden opportunity to create another problem for Israel on its borders.

It would be safe to say that the group targeted by Israel was involved in building a resistance network in the Golan Heights, similar to the one that drove the Israelis out of southern Lebanon in 2000. Another worrying factor is the involvement of what Israel calls its biggest threat in these efforts; Hezbollah that is, which is accumulating further experience in offensive combat in Syria and has proven successful and deadly on the battlefield. That means any direct confrontation between the Israelis and Hezbollah would make the July war of 2006 look like a walk in the park.

In its airstrike Israel wanted to thwart any possible threat coming from the Golan Heights.  Until recently, Israel had the luxury of being a player in the Syrian chess game without losing any of its soldiers. It was successfully using Syrian opposition groups to combat its enemies. However, the Resistance axis is not settling for this, they want to confront the Israelis directly on the battlefield, and make them endure direct losses.

The attack on the Israeli military convoy today is a direct retaliation to the Israeli attack. The location of the attack on the other hand gives us many clues to consider. Hezbollah wants to keep the status quo, as it is for the moment hence their retaliation in the usual battlefield with the Israelis: the Shebaa farms. The farms are still occupied territories and any resistance action there is deemed lawful under international law. It can also be assumed that the resistance in the Golan Heights is not yet ready to confront the Israelis directly, especially that it is still fighting Al-Nusra front there.  The Hezbollah retaliation is measured to the inch and aim at creating a deterrence strategy. If the Israelis do not retaliate, that means the Resistance Axis has succeeded in re-establishing deterrence capabilities and will continue to develop their resistance network in the Golan Heights with minimal direct Israeli interference.

Israel took a gamble. They hoped to send a clear message to the resistance axis to leave to the Golan Heights alone. They also hoped to get away with it without any retaliation.  Netanyahu wanted to score points before the elections and the IDF wanted to dictate new rules of the game. The latest Hezbollah attack in the Shebaa farms destroyed all these hopes and set a new deterrence equation: You kill our soldiers we kill yours. There’s a poetry line in Arabic that resonates with what just happened:

Not everything a man wishes for, he accomplishes

The winds blow against the wishes of the ships


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