Tactically, that was clever. Strategically, that was a recipe for a radicalized and perpetually aggressive Sunni majority that will terrorize Syria—and, perhaps, Lebanon—for decades.
Furthermore, Hezbollah has also backed Iran’s efforts to arm, train, and equip sectarian Shia militias in not only Syria but also Iraq and Yemen—a development that has contributed to the sectarian backlash that helped produce not only ISIS but also the disastrous conflict in Yemen.
Blowback was inevitable. For the past several years, Israel has been warning Hezbollah, first indirectly and then publicly, about its “red lines” in Syria, which included the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria into Lebanon. Outgoing Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel later revealed Israel had struck Hezbollah arms caches and convoys in Syria over 100 times.
But Israel knows it cannot intercept each and every shipment of arms. Sometimes the weather is too poor, or the intelligence too fuzzy, to act. And now Hezbollah is reportedly developing indigenous arms-making capabilities that will render cross-border shipments of advanced weaponry less necessary.
So, for nearly two years now, Israeli military and intelligence officials have been warning every American official who comes through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that the next war is coming. Israel has methodically prepared its allies—and most especially the Americans— for a very, very ugly war on the horizon. I don’t claim to know the precise spark that will ignite the next conflict, but Israel has been clear about the things it considers to be casus belli, and Hezbollah has consistently ignored them.
I shudder to think what the next conflict will look like. Since 1993, each clash between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon has been successively more violent. 1993’s Operation “Accountability” in southern Lebanon involved mostly air and artillery. 1996 brought Operation “Grapes of Wrath,” and the destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure beyond southern Lebanon. The war in 2006 leveled entire neighborhoods in Beirut, and led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of civilians in both Lebanon and Israel.
Now, especially since Hezbollah has dispersed its arsenal across Lebanon, the entire country will burn, and Israel will suffer mightily. Not one but two U.S. allies—for the United States has invested heavily in the Lebanese army, which Israel will almost certainly treat as hostile, and which will almost certainly attempt to defend Lebanese territory—will suffer.
And for what? What will Hezbollah have accomplished, other than the destruction of its villages and cities? It has duped its young fighters, who have been fighting the Israeli project of late in such hotbeds of Zionism as Aleppo and Deir az-Zour, into thinking Israel is weak.
Hezbollah has grossly underestimated Israel, a mistake that will prove costly. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Israelis could die in another conflict, but Israel isn’t going anywhere. This is existential for them. It will be the Lebanese who suffer immeasurably more.
If only Hezbollah could realize that, rather than pursue its present course, so much pain could be avoided.