The Israeli strike against Syria has to be looked at in the context of last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel – when Hamas fired some 1,500 rockets from the Gaza Strip, including longer range Iranian-made missiles that reached Tel Aviv for the first time. Israel successfully protected itself with its anti-missile system, called Iron Dome. The Syria strike shows that the last round in the Gaza Strip emboldened the Israeli military to go after Hezbollah, a far more fearsome enemy.
Knowing that its Iron Dome system was battle tested, Israel was able to confidently deploy the anti-missile system near Israel’s strategic industrial centers in Haifa prior to the attacks on Syria. Tanks and troops had been moved to the border with Syria, backed by a political establishment that had spent months coordinating with regional and international allies through back channels to gain support for such action.
The Israeli home front meanwhile, had undergone months of emergency drills, siren tests, and disaster planning, all based on pitfalls from the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the 2008-9 Gaza conflict.
Not only does Israel know its own strength, it is well aware of its enemies’ weakness. For Hezbollah, times have changed since its glory days in the 2006 Lebanon war. Hezbollah’s leadership knows that a broad conflict with Israel would exact damage on an exponentially higher level than seven years ago, affecting all of Lebanon. Only this time, an increasingly sanctions-hit Iran would be unable to rebuild Lebanon’s infrastructure. And the embattled Assad regime is likely too busy to facilitate the massive smuggling effort that would be needed to restore Hezbollah’s vast arsenal of rockets and missiles.
Both Hezbollah and Israel understand that the Shiite group’s arsenal is its last card in maintaining its future political strength in Lebanon after the eventual fall of its dictatorial uncle, President Assad, next door. That card should not be played unless absolutely necessary.