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Israel's airstrike - and what it means for Hizballah Open in fullscreen

Thaer Ghandour

Israel's airstrike - and what it means for Hizballah

Tensions have increased along the Israeli-Lebanese border after the Israeli attack [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 January, 2015

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An Israeli attack on Hizballah in southwest Syria has led to fears of a new conflict. But with the Lebanese group already engaged in the Syrian civil war, what options - if any - does it have to reply?
An Israeli airstrike on a Hizballah convoy in Quneitra, southwest Syria, has heightened concerns of more violence on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Some fear that another war could break out between the two rivals.

A large-scale war is not in the interest of Hizballah, Israel or their allies, but this does not mean Hizballah will not respond. The strike has had the following implications:

1. It has turned the Hizballah and Israeli confrontation in Syria from indirect to direct. Israeli attacks in Syria have not specifically targeted Hizballah until this week.

2. Israel's northern front has been extended to include the Golan Heights. Hizballah has maintained a military presence in the southwest Syrian town of Daraa and in some areas of the Golan Heights, and it has sent operatives to train Syrian nationals in guerrilla warfare to fight Israel.

One of the most significant operations it carried out was an attack on an Israeli army patrol in March 2014 in the Shebaa Farms, a disputed strip of land between the Syrian-Lebanese border and the Golan Heights.

Alert levels raised as Hizballah buries fighters killed in strike on Syrian convoy. Read more.

3. Even if it wanted to, Hizballah cannot engage in a full-scale war with Israel without considering the domestic and regional context. It needs to take into account the complex internal Lebanese situation, and if the Syrian regime wants to be involved in such a war.

Many supporters in south Lebanon are concerned about being dragged into another war with Israel, which could lead to mass displacement of the local population.

A war could also destroy nuclear negotiations between Iran and the US. According to Mohammad Fathali, the Iranian ambassador to Beirut, a deal is almost certain. Sources in the Iranian government say such a deal would cover both the nuclear programme and cooperation in Iraq to tackle the Islamic State group. It would also "open the door to the prospect of a peaceful settlement in Syria".

  Israel's wars on Lebanon   
  June 1982: Israel invaded South Lebanon and reached the capital, Beirut. Israel aimed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), based in south Lebanon at the time. The war ended when the PLO withdrew to Tunisia later that year, followed by Israel’s withdrawal from the city.

July 1993: Israel launched a seven-day war to weaken Hizballah. A total of 118 Lebanese civilians were killed as were two Israeli civilians.

April 1996: Israel engaged in a 16-day war against Hizballah after the group fired rockets into Israel. A total of 175 civilians were killed in the war.

May 2000: Israel withdrew from south Lebanon.

June 2006: Israel attacked Lebanon after Hizballah abduction of two Israeli soldiers. More than 1,400 Lebanese civilians and 44 Israelis died. The war ended with UN resolution 1701.

Since 2006: There have been many minor border incidents. For example, in August 2010, clashes erupted for a few hours between the Lebanese army and the Israeli army in Adaisseh on the Israeli border.
5. Although Hizballah is not interested in a full-scale war, it needs to be ready to respond if Israel decides to escalate matters. However, this seems unlikely as Israeli legislative elections are due to be held in March 2015.

6. The airstrike is the first time Israel has openly killed a high-ranking Iranian officer in Syria. It has been accused of killing scientists and officers before in Syria and Iran, but evidence has been hard to come by.

According to a local Iranian website and the Iranian Fars news agency, Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Sardar Allahdadi died in the attack. The Revolutionary Guard issued a statement saying Allahdadi was killed advising the Syrian government and army on how to "confront the terrorists threatening the country's security", not preparing an attack against Israel.

7. The Israeli strike killed high-level members of Hizballah's military wing, but their deaths will affect morale more than the group's operations. The dead include:

Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the late Hizballah military commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008. Jihad's death has dominated headlines, even though he was not the highest-ranking officer killed.

Mohammad Issa (Abu Issa) a member of Hizballah since the age of 15. He was in charge of the group's operations in Syria, and his death was the most damaging to Hizballah in a military capacity. According to Lebanese media, his brother-in-law was killed in Syria a few weeks ago.

Abbas Hijazi, son of a founding member of Hizballah. He was married to the daughter of Abu Hassan Salama, who was assassinated by Israel in 1999.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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