Everybody and their brother thinks that 2010 will witness a second round between Hezbollah and Israel. I hope, for Lebanon’s sake, that this will not be the case and I’m not as convinced as some that a conflict is inevitable in the near term. The current situation benefits both sides, in my opinion: Israel gets a quiet northern front and Hezbollah gets to re-group, re-arm, and weigh their options while certain relevant regional powers weigh theirs.
But just for argument’s sake, I thought I’d ask several well-known Lebanon-watchers for their opinion on the question of how the next war, la sama7a Allah, would likely start. I agreed to publish their comments anonymously, but trust me: they have something like 489 years of experience studying Lebanon, they’ve had university chairs and graduate programs named after them, and there’s a move afoot to chisel their faces into Mount Sannine. Here are their thoughts:
Commentator 1: I think the most likely trigger is the old 1982 scenario. Hizballah takes some action outside the conflict zone which Israel then uses as an excuse to “finish the job” north of the border.
Commentator 2: I still think the trigger is going to be: the muqawama shoots down a jet on overflight. This is followed by botched search and rescue à la Mogadishu except it ends with not only a day-long gunbattle but around 11 IDF hostages that trigger a full bore invasion.
I pick this one because it’s the scenario most likely to benefit Hezbollah, while simultaneously wrecking Lebanon. Say what you will about Nasrallah but things tend to break his way.
Commentator 3: Three potential triggers and in no particular order:
(1) Commentator 2’s suggestion, which for Hezbollah is probably the best as they can explain it within the role of defending Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression. “We gave the UN and international community a chance to stop the overflights by diplomacy, but they did nothing so we decided to act”. But they would have to be damn sure of a successful hit first time around. If they fire a missile from a newly installed SA-8 and it misses, the game is up.
(2) Mughniyah revenge: an Israeli embassy goes up in smoke or someone important gets assassinated. No claim of responsibility, but everyone knows who it is and the Israelis attack Lebanon. Hezbollah can claim “Hey it wasn’t us. We’re the only enemies Israel has?” to offset domestic backlash.
(3) Something related to an attack on Iran – the Israelis hit Lebanon before hitting Iran/Hizb retaliates to an attack on Iran/Iranian retaliation to an Israeli attack sparks regional conflagration etc etc.
To me, the situation is similar to the 2000-06 period: it was obvious there was going to be a war between Hezbollah and Israel; the unknowns were when and what would spark it. We found out the answer on July 12, 06. Now, however, although again it’s clear there will be another war, both sides are much more wary. Israeli strategists are talking about the Dahiyah doctrine and the concept of punishment, not dissimilar to Ops Accountability and Grapes of Wrath in 1993 and 1996. Next time, they say, we won’t bother try to defeat Hezbollah, instead we’ll smash Lebanon to demonstrate to the Lebanese the folly of tolerating them.
In my point of view, it won’t work. With the specter of the Goldstone Report hovering above their heads, the Israelis are looking for a swift and violent campaign that can be waged and completed before the international community can mobilize. By the time, the UNSC is being badgered to take action, Israel can declare the operation over and wag a finger at the Lebanese and say “Now, don’t do it again”. That might work if the Lebanese crawl from under the rubble and say “Gee, thanks Israel for stopping the bombing”. But what happens when Hezbollah continues firing rockets into Israel and starts sending their boys across the border even as the Israelis are declaring mission accomplished? The Israelis will have to react, and that’s where they face getting sucked into a massively destructive and prolonged conflict, with the international community sharpening its pencils for Goldstone II. Hezbollah’s boys seem to genuinely believe that the next war will be the final one with Israel. In 2006 they fought defensively and reactively. Next time, they say, they are going offensive with all that entails for both sides.
So there you have it. Feel free to weigh in, in the comment section. Also, along the same lines is an opinion piece by Emile Hokayem from a couple of days ago.