Another war between Israel and Hezbollah is almost inevitable. Although neither side wants a conflict now, the shifting balance of power in the Levant and shrinking areas of contestation are indicators of a looming showdown. The real questions are how and where—not if—the impending conflagration will occur.
The events of February 10 underscored the Levant’s instability. Israel shot down an Iranian drone that flew into its airspace and bombed the site in Syria from which the drone had allegedly been launched; during the latter mission, Syrian antiaircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16, the first Israeli fighter to be shot down by enemy fire in decades. Israel responded with massive retaliation against a slew of Iranian and regime-affiliated military targets in Syria.
Tensions in the region are only going to get worse. The Syrian civil war has so far resulted in nearly half a million dead, six million internally displaced, and over five million refugees, an overwhelming percentage of whom have now spent years in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, which are eager for their swift departure. Yet as the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) winds down militarily, so too will the many marriages of convenience among its enemies. These impending divorces will return a number of issues to the foreground, including governance and reconciliation, the future of outside powers in Syria, and the shifting regional balance of power. The resulting tensions are likely to bring Israel to the brink of a regional war even bigger than the last one in 2006, when it invaded southern Lebanon.
THE NEXT WAR
For Israel and Hezbollah, the defeat of ISIS and the resulting shifts in focus will clarify the increasingly complex and dangerous relations between them. Hezbollah has lost nearly 2,000 fighters in Syria, damaged its reputation through unfettered support for the regimes in Iran and Syria, and is rumored to face financial trouble. Despite all that, it remains popular with its core constituency, Lebanese Shiites. It has brokered political agreements with other confessions
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