Hezbollah's entrance into the war would destabilize more than just Israel

As the fighting continues in Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, the big question is whether Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, will join the war. 

To answer this question, it is necessary to frame the larger picture and understand the connection between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. The common denominator of these organizations is that they call for the destruction of Israel by violence, and they are supported militarily, economically and politically by the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction.  

The Iranian regime aspires to be the leading regional power. Its plan to achieve this goal is based, among other things, on constantly fueling the flames of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and creating a military stronghold around Israel to exhaust and erode the nation through repeating short military rounds. The ultimate goal of this power base is to create a “ring of fire” around Israel’s neck, which will be activated simultaneously when the time comes, to attack it from all directions. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip are central militia forces in this network. Hezbollah in Lebanon is the cornerstone of this master plan.  

One of the central narratives of Hamas propaganda and its political campaign is the mantra of the “unity of the Axis of Resistance and Defiance.” Hamas leaders emphasize that they work in full coordination with Iran and Hezbollah and present their relationship as one based on a unified goal — the elimination of Israel — and unity in the ranks — brothers-in-arms. 

Hamas leaders’ message to the Palestinians is that in times of trial and trouble, Iran and Hezbollah will stand by Hamas and Gaza. The time for that test has come. The devastation to Gaza is expected to reach unprecedented proportions. As the war expands, criticism and resentment are growing within the Arab community and among Palestinians and Palestinian public opinion towards Hamas. Anger against Hamas will intensify if it becomes evident that, despite Hamas’s assurances, Iran and Hezbollah abandoned both Hamas and Gaza. This will be another nail in Hamas’s political coffin. 

As of now, Hezbollah has not joined the war. It employs a gradual, small-scale and highly controlled threat tactic. The purpose of this strategy is apparently to try to deter Israel from acting to militarily eradicate Hamas. This also apparently reflects Iran and Hezbollah’s hesitation about whether to join the war.  

There are several reasons for this dilemma. First, at this stage, Hezbollah can’t rely on the element of surprise, as Israel is bolstering its forces in anticipation of a potential escalation in the conflict. Second, the images of destruction in Gaza resonate in Lebanon. Hezbollah knows that a similar fate awaits areas in Lebanon which are its centers of power and control.

Destroying Lebanon, which is already on the brink of the abyss, would bring about its final disintegration, which could be accompanied by an inner-Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah will have to divert resources to inside Lebanon. Third, the firm message from the United States to Iran and Hezbollah not to intervene, backed by U.S. military moves and an unequivocal commitment by the U.S. to provide Israel with all its needs.  

Hezbollah will struggle to maintain its strategy of limited and controlled threats. All indications are that Israel appears determined to eliminate Hamas’s military and organizational capabilities. 

This presents Iran with a challenge — either accept the loss of its power base in Gaza or send Hezbollah, Iran’s most powerful and vital operational agent militia, to war to try and save Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, risking significant damage to the militia. While Hezbollah might join the conflict, at this stage it is uncertain. 

Avi Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence official who went on to serve as deputy and then as senior Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, operating as a negotiator during the first and second intifadas. He is the author of “Inside The Middle East | Entering A New Era,” and his latest docuseries, “The Seam Line,” available on the Izzy streaming platform, focuses on Jerusalem’s flashpoints and his work during the intifadas.

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