The war of words is continuing. The latest salvoes were fired last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and his Lebanese ally and client Hassan Nasrallah. Ahmedinejad reportedly told Nasrallah that if
Hizballah second in command Naim Qassem joined in this week, describing
The self-confident, warlike tones of these leaders are by now familiar. But what, if anything, is revealed by these most recent statements?
Some analysis has suggested that the heightened rhetoric may presage an attempt by
While nothing should be ruled out, a number of factors should be borne in mind in this regard. Hizballah and its backers are well aware of the broad contours of
Rather, with Hizballah present in the Lebanese government, and its decisions regarding war not subject to supervision or appeal by any other element in
The results of such a conflict would be damaging to northern
So there is reason to suppose that the Iranians have good reason to hold back on committing their Hizballah clients until a possible later stage - most likely, in response to a future western or Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Of course, past wars in the region have often erupted not from a decision by one or other of the sides, but rather from a situation of ongoing, rising tensions, which was then ignited by a single, ill-judged action - such as the attempted murder of Ambassador Shlomo Argov, which led to Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, or the Hizballah kidnapping attempt which precipitated the war of 2006.
Hizballah's failure to avenge the death of senior movement official Imad Mughniyeh remains a major issue for the movement. In his speech to the rally last week, Nasrallah referred to this issue, saying "What we want is a retaliation that is up to the level of Imad Mugniyeh."
But here the movement faces a dilemma. Any major strike on an Israeli target is likely to provoke precisely the conflagration that Hizballah and its supporters fear. Hizballah, in addition to being a client and proxy of
So can we conclude that deterrence has been achieved, and the situation of latent tension in the north is likely to remain at its current level for the foreseeable future, short of an Israeli strike on
To do so would be to assume that the thinking of the Hizballah leadership and its allies in
Ultimately, there are ample pragmatic reasons as to why the Iran/Hizballah side might want to avoid escalation at the present time. But there are also irrational elements within the thinking of these forces - which incline them toward underestimation of their enemy. There is also a clear motivation for actions intended to reap a cost to
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israe
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.