June 13, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The real danger of Iran linking Hezbollah to Gaza

The era where Israel could fight in Gaza, in the West Bank, or just in Lebanon appears to be over.
June 13, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The real danger of Iran linking Hezbollah to Gaza

The era where Israel could fight in Gaza, in the West Bank, or just in Lebanon appears to be over.

Eight months of war have provided Israel with a deeper understanding of the role of Iran in creating multi-front threats against Israel. Prior to October 7, it was widely believed that the real threat in the region was Iran and that Iran’s provision of weapons to Hezbollah was the main front that Israel should concentrate on. However, October 7 showed that Hamas could trigger a regional war by attacking Israel.

This means that it’s worth understanding now how Hamas continues to have its hand on the trigger. If there is a ceasefire in Gaza, for instance, there may be “quiet” in northern Israel. This means that Hamas’s actions may determine Hezbollah’s actions. Together, their actions are likely coordinated with Iran and also its other proxies such as the Houthis.

Any escalation in Gaza may therefore lead to escalation in the North. This is one of the main learning curves of this conflict. Israel did not plan for this eventuality. While Israel had planned for a multi-front war, it had not envisioned the Gaza front being the main one and Hezbollah being the stand-off front, where there is tit-for-tat rocket fire and airstrikes.

Although this is not a direct parallel, it’s worth considering how the current crisis has some commonalities with the First World War and the failed concepts that led Europe into a massive conflagration in 1914.

Why is that similar to our region? Because Israel had a concept that envisioned Hezbollah as the main enemy and Hamas as the weaker player. As it turned out, however, it is Hamas that has dragged Israel into a long war and the Jewish state hasn’t even begun to fully face Hezbollah. Despite talk of a wider war with the Lebanese-based terrorist group, it is unlikely that a huge war will break out. However, as we all know, it’s best never to say “unlikely” because it may happen.

How is World War I applicable to today’s Middle East?

The First World War began unexpectedly due to the assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by the young Serbian Gavrilo Princip. The assassination caused the Austro-Hungarian Empire to declare war on Serbia, which resulted in Russia backing Serbia.

By August 1, Germany and Russia were at war. France and Russia were allies, so Berlin’s war with Moscow necessarily meant it had to fight a two-front war with France as well. Germany viewed France as the main challenge, because Russia would be slow to mobilize. Thus, Germany attacked France first, even though the entire conflict had begun because of a dispute in the Balkans.

What can we learn from this regarding the Middle East? The war that Hamas launched on October 7 has become a regional war. Israel’s plans for a multi-front conflict generally saw Hezbollah as the main challenge with more than 150,000 rockets, drones and anti-tank missiles in its arsenal.

Hezbollah has showcased how dangerous it is in recent months, increasingly using precision strikes with drones to target Israel. Although anti-tank missiles have ravaged Israel’s border communities, the Jewish state has waited and has not acted against Hezbollah, to avoid escalation.

In essence, one could argue that Israel has not ended up in the situation where Germany ended up in August 1914, forced to fight the secondary enemy first in order to balance a complex two-front war. However, Israel’s decision to put off this larger conflict, to avoid a larger two-front war, has not had great results so far. Hezbollah continues to attack and the war in Gaza drags on with no clear goal or strategy.

Herein lies the danger for Israel. With Hamas still in control of Gaza and Hezbollah able to launch rockets at Israel with near impunity, there is a danger that this will set up a new conflict in the future. This is because Iran has now tied together all the “arenas” as it aims to encircle Israel with proxy forces. If and when there is a ceasefire in Gaza, Tehran will continue to give each proxy a trigger to pull that leads to a multi-front war.

In essence, Iran has created a number of “Sarejevo 1914” events around Israel, each waiting to explode. This is why Jerusalem faces not only a trap similar to the one that precipitated the First World War, but it has no easy way to extricate itself now that Iran has successfully tied together these fronts.

The time when Israel could fight in Gaza alone, or in the West Bank alone or just in Lebanon, appears to be over. The Jewish state is now ringed with enemies like it was back in 1967. However, Israel’s leadership and its military brass do not seem to have the desire to grasp the initiative the way Israel did in 1967 and flip the situation in its favor. Instead, Israel is letting its enemies continue to coordinate and link the various frontlines together.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power