However, this new crisis presents a long-term opportunity for Israel.
take-over in Lebanon, almost certainly backed by Tehran, could bring
part of the Sunni-majority Middle East to Israel's side. Although the
new Hezbollah coalition includes Sunnis as well as Christians, many
Lebanese Sunni groups and their backers in Saudi Arabia will worry that
Hezbollah's rise could make Iran even more influential in Lebanon than
it already is.
the Sunni-majority countries of the Middle East have little love for
Israel, they share Israel's desire to thwart Iranian influence,
especially in Lebanon. With notoriously sectarian Hezbollah in power,
Sunni Arab regimes will be tempted to join in Israel's efforts to
undermine Iran and Hezbollah. Israel has long worked against Hezbollah.
Now, if Israel can sell Arab regimes on the idea that isolating
Hezbollah-led Lebanon will be worth the distasteful prospect of
cooperating with Israel, it will have help.
Of course, Arab
regimes would only help in Israel's anti-Hezbollah efforts for
self-interested, tactical, and probably short-term reasons. Neither
Israelis nor Arabs are going to forget the deep cultural and political
antagonisms dividing them overnight, nor is the threat posed by Iran and
Hezbollah a solution to Israeli-Arab disputes. But nothing unites
people like the threat of a common enemy, and a little cooperation could
help ease tensions and open up more possibilities for trust-building,
if only in the short-term. It's not going to bring peace and harmony to
the Middle East, but it could be an excuse to take a very small step in
the right direction.
Hezbollah's new found power may actually
chasten it in the short term, especially with regards to high-risk
aggression against Israel. With Iran's increasingly fragile economy
buckling under sanctions, the Iranian leadership may push Hezbollah to
use its leadership position at least somewhat responsibly and to avoid
all-out war against Israel.
This will probably mean discouraging
Hezbollah from embarking on adventurous policies as in 2006, when
Hezbollah provoked a massive Israeli response after it tried to kidnap
soldiers inside Israel's borders.
According to Lebanese
officials, between 2006 and 2009, Iran forked over $1 billion for
reconstruction in Lebanon, mostly in Shiite areas targeted by Israeli
attacks, in order to boost its own position as well as that of Hezbollah
in Lebanon. With sanctions hitting his country hard, Iranian Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is under more economic pressure than ever
before. He is unlikely to risk another massive reconstruction tab in
Lebanon. The most likely foreseeable scenario under which Khamenei might
allow Hezbollah to attack Israel is in retaliation for an attack
against Iran's nuclear installations. Until then, hostile words from
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah are all that Iran is likely
to permit. If Israel - perhaps with the help of Arab regimes - can keep
economic pressure on Iran and Lebanon, and can maintain a credible and
significant military deterrence, Hezbollah might reasonably be