by Prof. Eyal Zisser
We can no longer rely on the scars suffered by Nasrallah during the Second Lebanon War, nor can we continue relying on Israeli deterrence, which we learned last week comes with an expiration date.
The terrorist attack carried out by Hezbollah last week in the north marked an end to the period of quiet that had prevailed along Israel's border with Lebanon for nearly a decade, since the end of the Second Lebanon War.
Signs of this were evident already last year, when in February and October Hezbollah operatives placed roadside bombs targeting IDF patrols along the border fence in the Har Dov region. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quick to claim responsibility for those attacks, which were the first on the border since the Second Lebanon War. Because no soldiers were killed, Israel preferred to ignore, or more specifically to simply absorb, those two incidents.
From this perspective, last Wednesday's attack undoubtedly signifies an escalation, not only because soldiers were killed, but because it was a far more open and callous violation of the quiet along the border. Gone were the pre-prepared roadside explosives, responsibility for which could always be denied, and instead came a rocket attack from short range, perpetrated by a Hezbollah cell lying in ambush to strike at our soldiers from the other side of the border fence.
The deterrence achieved by Israel during the Second Lebanon War is still valid, evidenced by the fact that Nasrallah meticulously chose the location of last week's attack, which was limited in scope and area, so as not to provoke a sweeping retaliation and ignite a conflagration along the northern border. Nasrallah also rushed to transfer a message of reassurance to Israel that from his perspective this round of fighting was over.
Regardless, Nasrallah's decision to retaliate, no matter the cost, for the assassination of Jihad Mugniyeh and his companions, among them an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general, is a testament to his willingness to risk sparking another war, and illustrates the significance of the incident.
Immediately following the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah apologized to his Shiite countrymen, explaining that he miscalculated the severity and scope of Israel's response to the abduction of three soldiers, and saying that had he known in advance, he would not have ordered the abduction. Yet last Wednesday Nasrallah was again faced with a similar dilemma -- whether or not to order an attack that under certain circumstances could ignite another war -- and took the chance.
The significance is clear. We can no longer rely on the scars suffered by Nasrallah during the Second Lebanon War, nor can we continue relying on Israeli deterrence, which we learned last week comes with an expiration date.
It is quite possible that in the near future Nasrallah will decide, in contrast to the past, to respond to Israeli strikes inside Syria against weapon shipments earmarked for his organization. Until now, as we know, Hezbollah has refrained from retaliating to these strikes, saying they were a matter for the Assad regime.
Regardless, gone are the days of quiet to which Israel has become accustomed along the northern border these past nine years, and the countdown to the next round of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah has very possibly begun. As in past rounds, no one -- neither in Israel nor in Lebanon -- wants such a conflict, but Nasrallah's willingness to take risks against Israel, the likes of which he has not dared take in nine years, could lead to a conflagration earlier than expected.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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