In 2009, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in an effort to disable HAMAS. The message was clear: If HAMAS wants to fire rockets, then HAMAS will pay a price, was the Israeli thinking. And Gaza paid it heavily. The campaign was one of the bloodiest episodes in the conflict in a decade. But was it merely because some unguided rockets hit Israeli soil? Partially. But there appears to be a greater message in Israel’s shock and awe tactics in Gaza last time and this time around. The ammunition and tactics they used were a telegram to others in the region who might follow HAMAS’s lead, especially Hezbollah, which operates with the blessing and support of Iran.
After the 2006 Lebanon War which pitted Israel against Hezbollah, a consensus formed that dictated the two sides essentially fought to a draw. Hezbollah was declared a victor by default, however, because victory for them was frustrating a much stronger foe. However, less touted was the Israeli military’s effectiveness at destroying whatever new weapons infrastructure Hezbollah had accumulated leading up to the conflict. The organization has since had to rebuild from the ground up. In 2009, with the 2008 blue line skirmish fresh in Israeli minds, provoked by HAMAS rocket fire, and facilitated by a political party on the verge of a confidence vote, Israel went into Gaza — full force. But the message behind all the noise and rhetoric was two-fold: it was a warning to HAMAS and a more subtle message sent to anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon. Dear Hezbollah, this is what happens to aggressors.
Fast forward to the past week or so. The situation in the Middle East is actually quite similar to 2009. HAMAS is firing rockets again and the ruling Israeli government faces a tough election (the caveat being Likud is favored now whereas Kadima was dead in the water then). But why now? A recent upswing in rocket fire from Gaza explains Israel’s aggressiveness only partially. Widen the lens and you see that the relationship between Iran and Israel has worsened considerably, with Iran developing a nuclear program despite global efforts to thwart it, and Benjamin Netanyahu threatening unilateral Israeli action if the Iranians refuse to forfeit their domestic enrichment program. The environment is certainly more hostile now than in 2009. And it’s even worse than it was years before that, when observers first began speculating about an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel’s most recent offensive offensive aims to not only cripple HAMAS, but to deter Hezbollah from acting as Iran’s proxy in the event that Israel attacks Iran. Its no secret that Hezbollah has gotten more sophisticated weaponry since 2006 — but so has HAMAS. If the missiles fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the past few days are any indication, then Hezbollah’s weapons may actually be more advanced, and more lethal. So if Israel can lay waste to HAMAS now — even with their new rockets and Egyptian diplomatic support — then it won’t have to do the same in the north because Hezbollah will see whats coming.
This begs the question, what will Hezbollah do if and when Iran needs it to attack Israel? Given the images coming from Gaza this past week and the incredible lop-sidedness of the final score going into today’s reported ceasefire, they might want to think twice. The cost could be devastating.