Next Middle East War will be another Israel Hezbollah War

The next big war in the Middle East will be another war between Hezbollah and Israel. It will begin because Hezbollah has vastly increased the size and sophistication of its arms (missiles) in Lebanon despite clear and consistent warnings from Israel and the international community not to do so. Hezbollah has about thirty times the number of missiles as were fired during the 2006 war.

For the past several years, Israel has been warning Hezbollah, first indirectly and then publicly, about its “red lines” in Syria, which included the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria into Lebanon. Outgoing Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel later revealed Israel had struck Hezbollah arms caches and convoys in Syria over 100 times.

But Israel knows it cannot intercept each and every shipment of arms. Sometimes the weather is too poor, or the intelligence too fuzzy, to act. And now Hezbollah is reportedly developing indigenous arms-making capabilities that will render cross-border shipments of advanced weaponry less necessary.

So, for nearly two years now, Israeli military and intelligence officials have been warning every American official who comes through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that the next war is coming. Israel has methodically prepared its allies—and most especially the Americans— for a very, very ugly war on the horizon.

The 2006 Lebanon War, also called the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War and known in Lebanon as the July Warand in Israel as the Second Lebanon War was a 34-day military conflict in Lebanon, Northern Israel and the Golan Heights. The principal parties were Hezbollah paramilitary forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The conflict started on 12 July 2006, and continued until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect in the morning on 14 August 2006, though it formally ended on 8 September 2006 when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon. Due to unprecedented Iranian military support to Hezbollah before and during the war, some consider it the first round of the Iran–Israel proxy conflict, rather than a continuation of the Arab–Israeli conflict.

The conflict is believed to have killed between 1,191 and 1,300 Lebanese people, and 165 Israelis. It severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, and displaced approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000–500,000 Israelis.

During the war, the Hezbollah rocket force fired between 3,970 and 4,228 rockets at a rate of more than 100 per day, unprecedented since the Iran–Iraq War. About 95% of these were 122 mm (4.8 in) Katyusha artillery rockets, which carried warheads up to 30 kg (66 lb) and had a range of up to 30 km (19 mi). An estimated 23% of these rockets hit cities and built-up areas across northern Israel, while the remainder hit open areas.

Trying to Deal a meaningful setback to arms buildup and movement

One analysis of the possible conflict indicates that neither Israel or Hezbollah will be able to achieve a true victory.

The basis for the political-strategic framework of the conflict is the context dependent decision about who is the enemy and what Israel wants to gain from it in the conflict. The obvious enemy is Hezbollah, but Israel can also define the enemy as the Lebanese Republic, a contention that is increasingly valid as Hezbollah becomes the main shareholder in Lebanon. The enemy could be defined as the Iranian-Hezbollah axis and the Alawite regime – and this intensifies as the Shiite axis expands its ambitions to establish itself in Syria.

An understanding of the fundamental level and recognition of the limitations of power and limitations of feasibility reveal that there is only a limited range of “positive” and achievable objectives that Israel can hope to attain from Hezbollah and from Lebanon. While the purpose of an armed conflict is always political, in many contexts it is hard to find a political objective that is both meaningful and achievable at a reasonable cost, and that is the reason for the basic lack of value that can be found in an Israel Hezbollah military conflict. Israel’s main realistic wills are “negative” (and military) – preventing or limiting force buildup, restricting deployments, and preventing hostile activities that are intolerable in routine times (in other words, shaping the rules of the game).

Of course, it is possible to propose an objective of annihilating Hezbollah nd changing the internal Lebanese political map, but it is doubtful whether this is realistic; certainly not at a tolerable cost. Even at end states of an intensive, extended conflict, the Shiite population will remain significant in Lebanon, and Hezbollah will still be its representative. Hezbollah will remain an armed and adversarial organization; Iran will rebuild its military force, and at least in certain senses, its combat capabilities after Iranian rehabilitation will be no less than before the conflict. However, there are two possible achievable “positive” objectives: first, severing or at least interfering with the geographical-physical passageways between the Alawite area of Syria and the Shiite area in Lebanon, thereby reducing the access and freedom of action of the axis. Second, it may be possible to use political tools to affect the question of who will reconstruct Lebanon after a conflict. But the Israeli interest in reconstruction of Lebanon by a player such as Saudi Arabia, if such an interest exists, does not justify initiating a war, and should only be a positive side effect of a conflict that erupted in a different context.

Most of Hezbollah’s immediate and realistic wills regarding Israel are also “negative”: preventing Israeli interference with its efforts to build its force and with its deployments (with respect to Iran, preventing Israeli attempts to restrain its penetration of the region, and of course deterring Israel from acting against Iran, for example in the nuclear context). Hezbollah appears to seek the destruction of Israel or at least to gain Sha’ba Farms, but these are not achievable objectives. At deeper levels, the Shiite axis is interested in outlining a Muslim-Israeli fault line and leading the “resistance,” and thus blurring the Shiite-Sunni fault line, but this interest will reach the level of an actual desire in an intensive and immediate war only in extreme cases.