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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Why Hezbollah Remains on Sidelines of Israel Violence

Image Credit: Creative Commons.
IDF Commando Unit Egoz Exercise - 4 IDF special forces trained in various types of terrain in order to maintain their readiness for any enemy threat.

Hezbollah sees Israel as its mortal enemy. The group has stockpiled more than 150,000 rockets under the not-so-watchful eyes of UN monitors. And, yet, as rockets fly and Israel faces significant domestic unrest and communal violence, Hezbollah remains quiet.

On Thursday night local time, Palestinian terrorists in southern Lebanon launched three rockets at Israel, but Lebanese forces moved in to arrest the perpetrators, something they never have done when Hezbollah is the aggressor. Why is Hezbollah so quiet?

Hezbollah and its apologists might depict it as a Lebanese nationalist organization but the reality is that the group was and always will be a proxy of Iran. And, in this case, Iranian leaders are frightened.

Most Middle East analysts from across the region and the political spectrum agree that should there be a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s likely retaliation would be a Hezbollah missile barrage against Israel. Herein lies the problem for Iran: If Hezbollah goes ahead and begins launching rockets at Israel then, in effect, Israel is already suffering the consequences of a theoretical strike on Iran and there is then no disincentive for taking advantage of the moment to conduct such a strike. In effect, Hezbollah has become the key to deterrence and Iranian leaders fear what might occur to them if deterrence break down. Remember, Israel not only could operate with impunity over Iranian airspace but the Israel Navy operates more German submarines than the German Navy does.

American and international diplomats might scramble to return stability to the region and end the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but the real worry in the White House should be if Hezbollah opens a new front for, if they do, then the conflict will no longer be contained to Israel and Lebanon.

The calculation is not the benefit of Lebanon; Hezbollah has only once acknowledged that goading Israel into a fight that harmed Lebanon was a mistake. In recent years, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has stood defiant as he and his group bring misery to ordinary Lebanese.

Rather the issue is that for all Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei talks about the end to Israel and for all Nasrallah parrots his language, the reality is that a Hezbollah barrage would do far more to further the end of the Islamic Republic than it would Israel. It is that fear in Tehran that will lead Hezbollah to stand down.

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).