Another Israel-Hezbollah War Looming?
Four years after the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the state of Israel waged war against one another, Hezbollah’s strength—militarily and politically—has never looked better. In 2006, Hezbollah captured two Israeli border patrolmen and initiated strategic rocket attacks on Israeli towns, provoking a war with Israel. The month-long war was devastating, killing about 1,200 Lebanese (many of whom were civilians), and 128 Israeli soldiers.
Hezbollah came out of this war with a vengeance. While projects are still underway, it has restored and improved much of southern Lebanon. Massive reconstruction projects for both Lebanon’s infrastructure and Hezbollah forces produced results in a surprisingly short amount of time and could not have been realized without a massive amount of money, which neither Lebanon nor Hezbollah had after fighting the war.
Of course, Hezbollah had help. Donations from Iran (totaling hundreds of millions of dollars) and patrons from the Persian Gulf significantly aided Hezbollah in its campaign to rebuild the infrastructure of Lebanon and its own military capacity. Hezbollah claims that its missile stockpile is now three times what it was when the 2006 war began—which number Israel has not disputed. The city of Aita al Shaab, from which Hezbollah attacks were launched on the first day of the 2006 war, has been rebuilt and expanded as a symbol to Israel and the world, as a prime example of Hezbollah’s reconstituted power. Literally scores of huge, new houses face Israel, displaying the level of Hezbollah’s high degree of civil influence in Lebanon and warning Israel about the prospects of another war.
Hezbollah says it does not intend to begin the war against Israel; it does not, however, say it opposes war with Israel. The build-up Hezbollah created is practically inviting war. A reconstruction so massive, especially in terms of its rapid military build-up, is not a deterrence mechanism but rather an example of Hezbollah’s mobility and a display of strategic power. Hezbollah has showed just how quickly it could get back on its feet and fight again. Hezbollah denies ad nauseam that it does not want war and that it is not sending any message to Israel inciting war. Yet they take any chance they get to flaunt their prosperity in the last four years, in terms of infrastructure, influx of inhabitants, increased military forces, and continued support. The question seems to be when, not if, war with Israel will begin again: the build-up has again created the same sort of strategic threat to Israel that it faced in 2006 (if anything, on a greater scale), and a similar military build-up over a period of years preceded Hezbollah’s attacks of 2006.
Hezbollah continues to have a stronghold in southern Lebanon, where Shiite Muslim support is strong, and is backed by several anti-American entities. The spread of Hezbollah’s influence means that Lebanon could soon be lost to the “axis of resistance,” encouraging gains for the infectious power of the Iranian regime there and in other countries in the Middle East. This will not be good for the United States and flies in the face of American values. The United States and United Nations may want to consider a helping Israel maintain a destructive deterrence policy. Hezbollah needs to understand the stakes: war with Israel at this point in time may destroy its newly rebuilt southern life. But the United States, Israel, and all of the West must also understand the stakes of permitting militant Islam to spread in this strategically important part of the world and move to prevent it.
Jessica Hredzak is PAI’s Intern in Middle Eastern Affairs.