Ana Maria Luca

War is not an option for the Party of God

Hezbollah has few choices after the Golan Heights attack

Lebanese Hezbollah supporters carry the coffin of militant Jihad Mughniyeh during his funeral in a southern Beirut suburb on January 19, 2015 (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

“Death to Israel! Death to America!” chanted thousands of people gathered yesterday in Beirut’s southern suburbs as they mourned 25-year-old Jihad Moughnieh, son of assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Moughnieh. The young Moughnieh was killed on Sunday in an Israeli Air Force raid in the Syrian Golan Heights.


Sunday’s strike came just a few days after Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said that Hezbollah was capable of occupying Galilee and confirmed rumors that his group possessed Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles. Besides Moughnien, the raid killed two other members of Hezbollah's top command in the Golan, as well as an Iranian Quds Force general. It was carried out by two Israeli unmanned drones, according to the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights.


But regardless of what its supporters might be chanting, both politicians and analysts in Beirut say that a renewed clash with Israel is not a realistic short-term option for Hezbollah. Politically, Hezbollah is between a rock and a hard place. Theoretically, the Party cannot ignore the voice of its supporters who ask for vengeance. Jihad Moughnieh was too young to be an important member of Hezbollah’s military command, but he was Imad Moughnieh’s son and to Hezbollah supporters he was an icon. “Hezbollah does not have the option of not retaliating. The question is: how will they retaliate?” Lebanese commentator Ali al-Amine told NOW.



Between a rock and a hard place


Al-Amine says Hezbollah doesn't have the means to engage Israel directly. “Despite Hezbollah’s capabilities, they don’t seem to have the ability to withstand the consequences of an open war with Israel. Yes, Israel could suffer from a strike by Hezbollah," he said. "However, if Lebanon launches war on Israel, we do not know the scope of Israel’s retaliation, which could lead to considerable destruction in Lebanon."


An immediate retaliation and an open war with Israel would also leave Hezbollah without political support at home. Most Lebanese politicians have declared their opposition to such action. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt stressed that Lebanon cannot endure an “adventure.” Likewise, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi stated: “There is no need for Lebanon to shoulder the burden of what happened," referring to the Israeli attack.


Both Azzi and Jumblatt believe that retaliation from Syria would absolve Lebanon from bearing the consequences, but MP Atef Majdalaani warned that it will make no difference if retaliation comes from Syria or Lebanon: Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon will make the country vulnerable should an open war break out.


On the other hand, Al-Amine pointed out that a Syria-based retaliation could also be carried out with help from an allied organization. In time, he says, Hezbollah could even form a new group in Syria capable of perpetrating attacks against Israel without being overtly connected to the Party.



Bombing Israeli interests abroad?


A third option for Hezbollah would be to target Israeli interests and/or citizens abroad. Lebanese political analyst Mustapha Fahs believes this will be the most likely outcome. “I believe Hezbollah will consider an intelligence operation rather than call for an open war,” he told NOW. “[The Party] will not consider an open war with Israel, so they will not respond any time soon. If Hezbollah responds from South Lebanon it will mean that Israel will strike Lebanon. Also, if it responds from the Golan, then Israel may strike in Syria, tilting the balance. Neither outcome serves Hezbollah’s interests or those of its sponsor, Iran,” he added. An attack abroad, however, would not serve Hezbollah’s interests abroad, but rather risk yet more countries listing it as a terrorist organization.


Hezbollah has not taken an official position, although the Party has signaled an intention to be prudently restrained. Hezbollah Baalbek MP Kamal Rifai said yesterday that there will be a "harsh" response from Hezbollah for the Golan attack, but that the Party would take its time in choosing a target. Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to address his supporters on Sunday.  


Israeli military analysts also seem to recognize the difficult position Hezbollah is in and do not foresee anything like the July 2006 War. “The IDF has raised the alert on the Syrian border, but Nasrallah's response to the assassination of some of his senior commanders might lead to attacks against Israeli targets outside of Israel's borders,” wrote Ron Ben-Yishai on Ynet News, adding that “Hezbollah's massive arsenal of missiles and rockets will stay in the organization's bunkers until the day Israel strikes Iran's nuclear facilities.


“The circumstances on both the domestic Lebanese and international levels work in Israel’s favor right now,” Al-Amine said. And in addition to Hezbollah‘s lack of political support at home, its forces have been stretched thin by the fight against Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq.


Fahs says that a decision to retaliate is not even entirely in Hezbollah’s hands. “The real call on whether and when Hezbollah will strike back is in Iran’s hands,” he said. “I believe Iran will be careful on how makes its next move, and that is why I believe any response from Iran’s side will be limited or may even be postponed.”


Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609


Ranya Radwan contributed to reporting



Turnout in Beirut’s southern suburbs for the funeral of Imad Moughnieh’s son, Jihad, was massive. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

Despite Hezbollah’s capabilities, they don’t seem to have the ability to withstand the consequences of an open war with Israel. Yes, Israel could suffer from a strike by Hezbollah. However, if Lebanon launches war on Israel, we do not know the scope of Israel’s retaliation, which could lead to considerable destruction in Lebanon.”

  • manjarola

    Israel dont whant fight against Lebanon. What hezb did in Kuneitra in Syria, so close Israel ? I hope Nashalla dont be Iran slave forever and dont destroy Lebanon in another stupid war like 2.006, when hezb did Kill israeli soldiers IN SIDE ISRAEL. I thin Lebanon dont need another "Diviny Victory". And if Iran order Nashalla to atack Israel, if Israel bomb Iran ,i hope Nashalla dont suicide Lebanon for Iran.

    January 21, 2015