Israel's subsiding patience with Hezbollah
The restraint Israel has shown previously when Hezbollah attempted to attack it indirectly has diminished greatly
The denial was swift and the subsequent confirmation came only after all major Lebanese and international media confirmed what many eyewitnesses had already reported: for the first time since the bloody Syrian conflict began nearly three years ago, the Israeli Air Force conducted limited air strikes that directly targeted a Hezbollah base on the eastern Lebanese-Syrian border area of Nabi Sheet during evening hours on 24 February.
While Lebanese sources – including Naharnet and The Daily Star – reported the news as it happened, Hezbollah’s mouthpiece Al Manar first denied the attack even occurred and only admitted Israeli aircraft was hovering over the Bekaa Valley.
However, within 24 hours of the Israeli Air Force assault, reports surfaced that Hezbollah field commander Hajji Hassan Mansour, also known as Abu Haitham, was killed in the attack. Meanwhile, in a rare comment on matters of security by a senior Israeli official, the strike was also confirmed to TIME Magazine.
With far too much mounting evidence to continue its delusional denial campaign, Hezbollah’s Al Manar confirmed in a statement released by the militant group that Israel’s “blatant assault on Lebanon” indeed did actually occur and vowed it would "choose the time and place and the proper way to respond” to the attack.
Hezbollah's hands tied
Despite the post-air strikes blustering by Hezbollah and despite the fact that Israel has taken precautionary measures on its northern front raising the alert level on the Lebanese and Syrian border areas - seemingly bracing for potential retaliation - Hezbollah ultimately remains deterred from directly striking Israel in the near term.
Nonetheless, the significance of the Israeli attack inside of Lebanese territory – unprecedented since the beginning of the Syrian conflict - is twofold. Firstly this is the latest reminder that the Syrian conflict continues to wreak havoc on the geopolitical and security dynamics of the entire Levant.
The Hezbollah tactic of targeting Israeli tourists, Jewish centers, and diplomatic structures is the coward’s way of striking Israel’s heart-without triggering a swift military response as a direct strike on Israeli territory would.Brooke Middleton
The second issue is that the attack underscores the notion that despite Israel’s commitment to prevent weapon transfers to Hezbollah – demonstrated by the multiple strikes inside of Syrian territory before or while they’re en route – at least some weapons are indeed arriving in Lebanon- threatening further Israeli strikes in the near term.
This presents a grueling dilemma for Hezbollah.
While deadly car bombings continue to target their strongholds on a regular basis and perennial rocket fire emanating from Syria continues to slam into Lebanese territory - the militant group cannot risk providing Israel with further justification for staging a comprehensive attack on its positions.
Priority to arm Syria
Hezbollah’s integral role in aiding Damascus remains the militant group’s paramount priority and any restructuring of those priorities would undoubtedly comprise the militant group’s ability to continue playing this leading role in the Syrian conflict on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s disgraced regime.
Despite the lack of confirmation from Israeli intelligence officials, it is generally accepted that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have targeted would-be Hezbollah weapon shipments en route to Lebanon on at least four different occasions inside of Syrian territory with no direct retaliation resulting from the strikes.
That said, the current precedent of non-retaliation does not signify a concerted effort to not target Israel’s interest - it only demonstrates Hezbollah’s current inability and aversion to engaging in a direct conflict with Israel.
Noting this, Hezbollah’s recent statement indicating that Israel will be punished for its attack on their group presents a previously known and still credible threat that is likely to manifest in the form of attacks on Jewish and/or Israeli targets internationally.
The possible covert attacks are likely to mirror the Burgas incident in 2012 in which a suspected Hezbollah militant detonated his explosives-laden body on a tourist bus, killing five Israelis as well as the the bus driver and injuring dozens of others.
Israel's waning patience
The Hezbollah tactic of targeting Israeli tourists, Jewish centers, and diplomatic structures is the coward’s way of striking Israel’s heart-without triggering a swift military response as a direct strike on Israeli territory would.
The Shiite militant group is likely to step up efforts in the near term to attempt to successfully carry out attacks against Jewish and/or Israeli targets as a means of retaliation for Israel’s continued strikes targeting Hezbollah.
However, there is a high probability that the restraint Israel has shown previously when Hezbollah attempted to attack it indirectly has diminished greatly.
While Hezbollah remains embroiled in the Syrian war and faces a significant uptick of attacks targeting it on its own territory, Israel remains increasingly less deterred from striking back-directly.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
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