As pro-government forces have retaken control of significant portions of Syria, Israeli planners have begun to focus anew on the prospect of another war with Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The last war between Israel and Hezbollah, in 2006, brought more than a decade of calm along Israel’s northern border. But over the ten years since then, Hezbollah has significantly increased the size and sophistication of its arsenal and has improved its political position within Lebanon. Another war could break out for a number of reasons: if a misperception on the part of Hezbollah or Israel produces an unintended escalation; if one of the two decides to exploit a perceived moment of weakness on the part of the other to attack; or if the behavior of either side crosses the redlines of the other.
Israeli strategists do not question the likelihood of a war with Hezbollah. But they wonder how Russia, which is a comrade-in-arms with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, would respond to such a conflict. Israel has recently intensified its strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, but it has so far managed to preserve a delicate modus vivendi with the Kremlin, often through personal entreaties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This pattern may not hold in the next war. If aggressive fighting between Israel and Hezbollah runs against Russia’s interests, Moscow will be well positioned to restrict the freedom of action of both sides and to help settle the conflict. The Kremlin would probably exploit such a war to improve its position and influence in the wider Middle East.
As the situation in Syria has stabilized, Russia and Iran’s competition for influence there has deepened. The Kremlin wants to preserve its assets under any future political arrangement, even if Assad is replaced as Syria’s leader or if the country is federalized. Iran similarly seeks to solidify its power in the Levant on its own terms. Both
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