Israel's War With Iran

THE START OF SOMETHING NEW

The recent fighting in Lebanon may have looked to some like old news, just another battle in the long-running Arab-Israeli war. But it also represented something much more disturbing: the start of a new war between Israel and Iran.

The Israeli defense establishment, which regards Hezbollah as a frontal commando unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, certainly saw things this way. The Iranians may not have been physically present on the frontlines in Lebanon, but they were active there nonetheless. A number of Revolutionary Guard members were killed in the Israeli incursion into the town of Baalbek (close to the Syrian border) on August 1, and Israeli intelligence claims that Iranians helped Hezbollah fire the land-to-sea missile that almost destroyed an Israeli warship in mid-July. Most of Hezbollah's arms -- including modern antitank weapons and the thousands of rockets that rained down on Israel -- came from Iran (as well as Syria). Iranian advisers had spent years helping Hezbollah train and build fortified positions throughout southern Lebanon.

Iran, in fact, has been heading steadily toward a confrontation with Israel for some time now, and its aid to Hezbollah was meant to ensure that it would have a ready strategic response if Israel took action against it. From Israel's perspective, it is lucky that the war broke out when it did. Things would have been quite different if Hezbollah's patron had already been armed with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. From Iran's perspective, accordingly, the conflict started too soon. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Tehran did not give Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, permission to launch a major operation against Israel on July 12. Hezbollah's strike -- which resulted in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of several others -- was supposed to be relatively minor, just one more in a long series of provocations across Israel's northern border. Nasrallah seems not to have expected the powerful Israeli response that followed, and he quickly proposed an immediate cease-fire and a prisoner exchange.

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