“Under the old rules of the game, which were pretty much respected by both parties, whenever there was a violation of these new rules, it was a limited, calibrated, tit-for-tat escalation, usually followed by messaging by the top leadership on both sides that no further escalation is desired by either side,” she continued. “Even when attacking targets in Syria, Israel has worked hard not to target Hezbollah personnel operating in Syria. So the number of Hezbollah personnel who died in Syria because of Israeli targeting is quite limited.”
Slim said that Hezbollah has similarly restrained its responses to the Shebaa Farms, a strip of territory claimed by Lebanon but administered by Israel.
But Nasrallah’s speech hinted that Hezbollah could attack targets inside Israel this time, even beyond military targets. “The time has ended when Israeli planes bomb a target in Lebanon while the Usurper Entity in Palestine is safe,” he said in his Sunday speech, using an epithet for Israel. “Today I say to the inhabitants of the north [of Israel] and all the inhabitants of Occupied Palestine, do not rest and do not believe that Hezbollah will allow this sort of aggression.”
“Be careful about your words, and even more cautious about your actions,” Netanyahu responded on Tuesday.
“Right now, every side is testing the other side. Hence this period of instability. Nasrallah was clear that the old rules no longer hold,” Slim said. “This kind of testing is subject to a lot of miscalculation as well as misunderstanding of each other’s intentions.”
Israel calculates that “the Iranians are not in a position to respond right now, not that they can't militarily, but because they have to balance so many different other concerns,” Parsi said. “As a result, it’s relatively cost-free for the Israelis to do this right now.”
Iran’s response is also constrained by “a test of will between, on one hand, [Iraqi] state institutions, and on the other hand, the [Popular Mobilization] factions which are controlled and beholden to Iran, about who controls war and peace decisions of the country,” Slim claimed.
Slim believes that Israel is similarly limited by internal politics, as it doesn’t want a costly “adventure” inside of Lebanon during an election season. But it’s always possible that Netanyahu will turn an uncontrollable escalation to his advantage.
“People unite after their leaders during time[s] of crisis,” Darawshe told the National Interest in a text message. “[I]f you are a conflict management specialist as Mr. Netanyahu, you would exploit the situation to its utmost, by dragging the country into a sensitive low level intensity conflict.”
Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest and a former Foreign Language Area Studies fellow at Columbia University. His work has been published in Reason and America Magazine.