Israel and Hezbollah renew an old conflict yet again this week. It has been reported that Israeli warplanes have struck targets in Lebanon close to its border with Syria. The involvement of Israeli forces further complicates the situation in the region. The relationship between the Syrian government, the Syrian rebels, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda all play a role in the situation in Syria. Security experts have speculated that the Israeli airstrike was an effort to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons, likely missiles, from the Syrian government to Hezbollah.
The Allowite regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the militant group Hezbollah share a common religious heritage in that they are both Shi’ite Muslim groups. This connection has been vital in maintaining a supply route from Shi’ite Iran to Hezbollah. Should the Assad regime in Syria collapse, this supply route would be disrupted. Israel would like to see this come to pass as it would weaken Hezbollah, a group that Israel sees as a threat to its security. It would also potentially reduce the influence of Iran in the region, as Syria one of Iran’s strongest allies.
This complicated connection of allegiances is made potentially even more unstable by Israel’s action. Hezbollah may be a Shi’ite Muslim organization, but it is also a highly nationalistic group as well. Its charter of protecting Lebanese sovereignty is directly threatened by the Israeli air strikes. By attacking Lebanese territory, Israel is forcing Hezbollah to make some kind of military response. If it does not, it could lose credibility in the eyes of its members as well as the citizens of Lebanon that it presumes to represent. It should be noted that while Hezbollah is categorized as a terrorist organization, it is also a formal political party within Lebanon.
This would not be the first time that Israel and Hezbollah have engaged each other militarily. The two sides fought in 2006 in a conflict that saw significant damage done to the infrastructure of Lebanon and had no conclusive resolution. Hezbollah claimed victory in the conflict as Israeli forces eventually withdrew from Lebanon, but the country itself suffered significant damage. Israel has appeared to be reluctant to engage in Lebanon in recent years, but this week’s developments seem to indicate a change in that policy as Israel and Hezbollah renew their old conflict.
Hezbollah must now decide how to respond to the Israeli action. The timing is interesting as Hezbollah has been credited with being a major factor in propping up the Assad regime in Syria and striking significant blows to rebel forces there. If Hezbollah chooses to divert its attention to Israel as a consequence of the recent airstrikes, it may limit Hezbollah’s ability to support the Assad regime. This may have been a factor in Israel’s decision to conduct the airstrikes. It could be in their interest to attempt to force Hezbollah to fight on two different fronts.
The situation in Syria is already a complex one and it has defied international efforts to seek a resolution. While the Israeli action this week took place in Lebanon, it already has had an effect on Syria. So while Israel and Hezbollah renew an old conflict, it is a more recent conflict that may endure the consequences.
By Christopher V. Spencer