Israeli and Hezbollah officials rushed to assure each other that they do not intend to escalate the recent air raids and missile attacks across the Israeli-Lebanese border, leaving people wondering about the purpose of the well-calculated military activities.
The new Israeli Cabinet, busy with its domestic agenda and trying to consolidate the successful peace drive achieved by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the form of the Abraham accords, is not keen to engage in a major military confrontation especially after the Gaza mini war which caused an international uproar as a result of the excessive use of force. Furthermore, the new Israeli Cabinet is trying to cement its relationship with the American administration, which is determined to restore the Iran nuclear deal scrapped by the Trump administration. With no intention to meddle in Lebanese affairs or embark in a military campaign, the Israelis' priorities in Lebanon and Syria remain focused on enforcing by all means a ban on the transfer of advanced weaponry into Lebanon and the establishment of Iranian military bases near their border.
On the other hand, Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah was keen to send a message that his group has no intention in starting a war at a time when Lebanon is facing a severe economic crisis which is starting to erode public support for the “resistance” even within the ranks of Hezbollah constituents.
So if Israel is not interested in a wide-scale military confrontation and Hezbollah wants to maintain the current rules of engagement set in place in the aftermath of the inconclusive destructive war of 2006, why did we come close to a military clash with the potential of getting out of control?
The tendency is to explain events in their regional context, and in this case linking the tension between Israel and the Iranian proxies to the ongoing shadowy war between Iran and Israel extending from a tankers war to armed conflicts in Gaza and south Lebanon. For sure Iran, which has heavily invested in supporting armed groups from Yemen to Lebanon, wants to leverage the West and Israel and reminds them that no settlement can take place if It doesn’t take into account Iran’s interests. With that in mind, some events may simply have domestic considerations. Israel and Hezbollah have been engaging each other for decades and are good at deciphering their intentions. Hezbollah under tremendous domestic pressure wants to reaffirm the rules of engagement and check on the effectiveness of Israel's Iron Dome, which proved its effectiveness in the most recent Gaza war. Military analysts see value in the way the Iron Dome intercepted around half the missiles fired into Israel from Lebanon. The information collected after intercepting the old missiles may force Hezbollah to readjust its targets and the location of the missile sites deployed in south Lebanon. It was the first time that the Iron Dome was used in such magnitude on the border with Lebanon. For certain they were lessons learned and data by Hezbollah in the wake of the recent exchange and it may be looking for a way around the Iron Dome in future confrontations.
Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist. He contributes a weekly column to The Daily Star