While intentional or not, Israel’s incursion into Lebanon (aimed at Hezbollah) is now a proxy war against Iran via Hezbollah and Hamas, a violent mirroring of the US-Iran maneuverings in the UN and in Iraq. The incursion also demonstrates how powerful the Iranian hand is with Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sadr and others in Iraq and influence in Afghanistan, relative to the U.S. and Israel and even the other Middle Eastern states like Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s endgame is not clear, as it cannot militarily defeat Hezbollah unless it shuts down Syria’s border with Lebanon (along with a conventional ground offensive), which would bring Syria into an open conflict with Israel, as well as, Israel incurring the wrath of the region and the world for widening the war.
Being a guerilla force, Hezbollah can take the blows of the IDF very resiliently. Even with infrastructure degraded and supplies gone, Hezbollah can afford to wait and rebuild slowly and even bring Israel into wider protracted war on Lebanese territory. Indeed, as long as the border between Syria and Lebanon remains open, Hezbollah will have a safe-haven for retreat as well an area to gather supplies.
A far worst case scenario is for the Lebanese government and the military to throw its weight behind Hezbollah. This is something it has not clearly done yet, but if the war widens and causalities mount, Israel may find itself in an open war against an Iranian-backed Lebanese-Syrian front on the north and Hamas in the east.
One possible end game is for Israel is to find, rescue and bring home the two IDF soldiers, granting Israel the ability to withdraw while saving face abroad and more importantly at home.
The better solution would be to use the Lebanese incursion as a platform to pressure Lebanon, the U.S. and others to finally act on fulfilling UN Resolution 1559, disarming Hezbollah.
To lay the ground work, Israel must make it explicitly clear that its offensive maneuvering is an attack on Hezbollah, not the Lebanese people, the government - which rules out the bombings in Beirut and other major Lebanese cities. It should attempt to clandestinely reach out to the fragile Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, pushing it to deploy its army against Hezbollah in the south in the name of “reasserting” control of the south.
While a realistic assessment of the current situation forbids such an optimistic assessment, there is some truth when Kyle Spector of Foreign Policy declares:
“But some Lebanese and other Arabs around the region (including the Saudis), while obviously not in favor of the Israeli assault, are seeing this crisis as a death knell for Hezbollah and quietly cheering it on”
This is not a guaranteed death kneels for Hezbollah as Spector calls it, but the dislike of Hezbollah in Lebanon and regionally is there – Israel needs to take advantage of it.
At the same time, US and its partners must work via to diplomatic channels - be it public, the UN or other channels - to get Syria and Iran to back-off. How is another question, but it must be done as alternative scenarios are dire.
Perhaps the second option is being carried out by US, Israel and its allies. Time will tell what paths history will take.
Some Suggested Readings
- NYT’s “Israel’s Invasion, Syria’s War” by Michael Young
- “Crisis in the Middle East: Local Bloggers Report” by The Truth Laid Bear