Hezbollah’s initial reactions to Israel’s unprecedented air raid on Iranian military targets in central Syria on April 8, which resulted in the deaths of seven Iranian military personnel, has been encouraging, with the party signaling that it intends leave the retaliation for Iran to carry out. Nonetheless, if Israel lives up to its far-reaching threats to systematically destroy Iran’s assets in Syria, then Hezbollah will find it increasingly difficult to stay out of this fight—especially if Israel continues to use Lebanon’s airspace in doing so.
Time is ripe for the international community to step up its involvement in Lebanon. The recent dispute between Israel and Lebanon over offshore gas fields presents an opportunity for the international community to stabilize and even “normalize” the conflict. The onus ultimately falls on Israel, Hezbollah and Lebanon to make policy decisions to ensure that the current stability does not depend solely on deterrence. Israel’s systematic use of Lebanese airspace to attack in Syria is likely to put pressure on Hezbollah and the Lebanese government to take steps in an effort to deter Israel. Lebanon would be wise to exert whatever influence it has on Hezbollah to reduce to a very minimum its direct involvement in the clash between Iran and Israel. The governments in Jerusalem and Beirut share a joint interest in keeping Lebanon out of the Syrian fray. Both parties have much to gain from another thirty years of quiet.
Dr. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.