Recently, speculation over a new war on Israel’s front with Hezbollah in Lebanon has been on the rise. Reports of a hole found in the border fence and the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) relocation of Iron Dome missile defence batteries into the area have been taken to mean one thing: both sides are preparing for a war in the north.
However, it is all too easy to overlook a well reported, but underestimated fact — Hezbollah is far too busy fighting Assad’s war in Syria to focus its attention on Israel.
The recent nuclear deal, said to have empowered Iran’s regional ambitions, cannot be ignored. The $50 billion ‘signing bonus’ will undoubtedly result in a steady increase in Iranian belligerency in the region via its various proxies. However, it is not in the Islamic Republic’s interest to overstretch Hezbollah even further at this present moment.
The local Sunni superpower, Saudi Arabia, has begun to repel the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, and Turkey has joined the fight against IS, lessening the coalition forces’ informal reliance on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps on the ground. Add this to reports that Assad’s grip on power in what remains of Syria is weakening, and Iran has its work cut out to retain its hard-won regional influence.
As Hezbollah becomes increasingly vital to Assad’s longevity, its Iranian backer will likely want the group to focus on its war against al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army and IS, not Israel. In short, now hardly seems the time for Hezbollah to fight a war it knows it cannot win.
Bogged down Syria and Iraq, the group has sustained heavy losses. Whereas there is no doubt that the organisation’s 40,000 – 100,000 missiles (aimed at Israel) are primed and ready to go, it is important to assess the strategic value of such an attack in the present geopolitical situation.
If Hezbollah were to attack imminently, it would be a catastrophe for the Jewish state. Their missiles are not only plentiful, but highly accurate, and can reach anywhere in Israel. Yet, the response this would prompt would be astronomical, and with up to 8,000 fighters already embroiled in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, it is unclear how the group would be able to sustain an attack. This would likely inflict irreparable damage onto Hezbollah’s image, which has already taken a beating after it sided with Assad, and could possibly even spell the end of the already thinly stretched Islamist organisation.
Iran is unlikely to squander its prospects for regional hegemony for the purpose of enacting short-term, non-existential harm onto Israel, especially when, given patience, it could prove a far bigger threat.
If Hezbollah plays the long game and focuses on sustaining Assad, they may yet emerge victorious, finding themselves in a position to attack Israel from two fronts, rather than one.
Meanwhile, Iran would have retained its interests in the area, and be hailed by the West as the force that stabilised the Middle East.
There is no doubt that a war is coming… Just not yet.