Despite Claims to the Contrary, an Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely for the Foreseeable Future. Here’s Why.
By Franklin Lamb, Beirut
During an interview on 2/28/18 with, Iranian journalist, Fariba Pajooh, the friend of many of us, Professor Noam Chomsky
emphasized the imminence of a devastating Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon. He explained that: “There is a significant likelihood that real hostilities will break up between Israel and Hezbollah, which will probably
mean the invasion of Lebanon by Israel. Israel will bombard Lebanon, which will mean the destruction of Lebanon. Israel
is committed to their Dahiya doctrine, as they call it, which means they will go to war against any provocation. And it
could just blow up the Iranian installations which are not too far from the Israeli border. Israel won’t allow anything
near its borders. So, I think that is a very volatile and dangerous situation.”
Since first meeting Professor Chomsky in his MIT office nearly four decades ago while I was a student of his friend
Professor Jerome Cohen at Harvard Law Schools, East Asia Legal Studies Center, studying the Chinese (Mao Tse Tung’s
Cultural Revolution) “Legal system”, I have followed Professor Chomsky work and his activities as a US foreign policy
critic, historian, social critic and political activist.
Like many of us I would normally no sooner second-guess Noam Chomsky’s Middle East foreign policy analyses than I would
the late Stephen Hawking’s theories about our Universe.
But geostrategic calculations are unfolding fast in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Israel and the region and quite recent events
suggest to this observer that a Hezbollah-Israel war is not on the horizon. A war between Hezbollah and Israel may be
inevitable but based on this observer’s analysis it is not imminent. Focusing on recent developments in Syria and
Lebanon offers scant evidence that either Israel, Hezbollah or Iran are interested in starting another war. There are
several reasons for this stalemate including, but not limited to the factors noted below.
In the coming year and likely well beyond, Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran will primarily be shackled to fighting
in Syria. A major war with Israel is extremely risky for them. Despite be able to inflict serious damage on Israel; such
a war would ignite a fierce Israeli response that could decimate Hezbollah and Iranian forces and bases in Syria and
undermine Iran’s reginal goals. Iran is cautious and its unlikely that Tehran would take that risk.
Even frequent Israeli bombings have not elicited much of a Hezbollah, Iran or Syrian response. All still deny the 2007
Israeli attack on a nuclear reactor being built in Deir ez-Zor a decade ago. The reason being their inability to react
militarily without risking destruction of their forces.
Iran cannot afford to risk Israel destroying Hezbollah which serves Tehran in many ways. If Israel were to bomb Iran’s
nuclear weapons sites, Iran could order Hezbollah to do its utmost to damage Israel. But today the chances of such an
Israeli strike appear increasing remote, considered unnecessary given the global focus on Iran’s potential nuclear
sites. In addition, Hezbollah has become a key part of the new Iranian empire in the region, fighting in Syria and
training Shi‘a militias alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. So Hezbollah is needed by Iran than was previously the
Iran and Hezbollah also are keenly aware that Israel has been developing its military capabilities since 2006 and
readying itself for the next war. And Israel knows the same about Hezbollah.
For Israel, victory means Hezbollah’s complete destruction. Therefore, Israel won’t rush into a war that Hezbollah might
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is stretched thin in more than three countries, and a war with Israel could jeopardize Hezbollah’s
and Iran’s recent gains in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Meanwhile, Israel will continue its targeted attacks on Hezbollah’s
weapons convoys and depots with impunity. Hezbollah will not confront Israel from south Lebanon unless it Tehran orders
it on it has achieved its goals in in Syria and that will take a long time, if ever, to achieve.
Meanwhile, as Hanin Ghaddar has explained, Israel knows well that in a future war with Hezbollah that it could face as
many of its 150,000 rockets—compared to the 33,000 Hezbollah had in 2006. Writes Ghaddar, “Hezbollah, with Iran’s help
has built missile factories in Lebanon and Syria, meaning they have guidance systems that will cause serious damage to
Israeli population centers. In addition, Hezbollah is now part of an army of 200,000 Shi‘a fighters from Lebanon, Iraq,
Pakistan, and Afghanistan, under the command of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. An Israeli war with
Hezbollah, therefore, could mean a war with Iran’s foreign legion.”
There are some current factors that increase the prospects for a future Hezbollah-Israel war, but not immediately.
Given that rebels in many areas of Syria currently on the defensive, and even though ISIS is staging comebacks and the
war is widely predicted to last for several more years, Iran and Hezbollah are using the chaos to make whatever gains
possible toward establishing prominence in Syria and Lebanon with respect to taking over the economy, military and
security agencies. This campaign, as noted above, includes increased documentation of Iran’s financing of arms and
missile factories in Lebanon and incorporating Hezbollah more deeply into its “Regional Foreign Legion.”
Another relevant and growing factor is that for many in the region, the Trump Administration leadership vacuum is
creating evermore pressure on US allies in the region with some contemplating taking matters into their own hands to
replace the current desultory White House initiatives. Russia is filling this vacuum, which is stoking anxieties among
the UK and EU as well as others. Absent focused U.S. leadership, Israel may strike out on its own to prevent Hezbollah
from becoming the preeminent military force to its north
Also building pressure and skittishness along the southern Lebanese border is the fact that Israel is building a
7-meter-high wall border along a line demarcated by the United Nations in 2000, when Israel ended its 18-year occupation
of southern Lebanon. Israel claims that the wall is needed to prevent Hezbollah attacks like the one that ignited the
2006 war, which claimed 1,200 Lebanese lives and more than 60 Israeli lives. Hezbollah has threatened military action if
Israel begins constructing the wall. Tensions are rising according to UNIFIL which has 40,000 troops watching the
In addition, Lebanon last month approved a joint bid by Italian, French and Russian oil companies to explore off its
coast for oil and gas. Israel claims a portion of the waters, but the competing claims are aggravating tensions between
the countries. Hezbollah has also threatened to attack Israeli platforms in the Mediterranean extracting natural gas.
The Gaza Strip is restive and could ignite into a war at any time. With the increase in rocket attacks from Hamas and
Israeli retaliatory strikes after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital late last year, another Israeli
military distraction with Hamas could be seen by Hezbollah as a favorable opportunity to strike Israel from the north.
Another potential wild card are recent reports that Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah have formed an alliance in consultation
with Russia and China to scuttle the White House Middle East ‘peace plan’ “by all means.” Hamas sources in the Gaza
Strip, on 3/22/2018, advised the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that the discussions between the three parties — Hamas,
Iran and Hezbollah have gone a long way on this matter” and are based on the belief that Trump’s plan, which he has
described as the “deal of the century,” was the “most dangerous” in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It was not
immediately clear what type of military pushback effort the three claim they would mount to the US proposal, or what
this latest development augurs.
A serious miscalculation is the most likely trigger to ignite another war in Lebanon should it happen. But over the past
few years both Hezbollah and Israel have issued statements following a relatively moderate escalation expressing
threats. But these ‘warnings’ are understood by both sides as a message that no escalation of a limited military
incident with happen anytime soon.
Both sides appear to be working in concert in a sense, to avoid a new extremely risky war for the foreseeable future.
And this serves the decimated civilian population of the region.