Since 2011, Jerusalem has carried out over 100 strikes on Iranian forces in Syria to curb Tehran and its proxy army, Hizballah, from positioning sophisticated weaponry and military infrastructure on Israel’s northeastern border. Jerusalem has, however, refrained from attacking Hizballah’s similar infrastructure in Lebanon. Yet, writes Tony Badran¸ the Jewish state can’t turn a blind eye to the military build-up in Lebanon forever:
[W]ith Iranian assistance, Hizballah has embarked on what Israeli officials refer to as the “missile precision project”—an effort to upgrade its large arsenal of rockets with guidance systems, increasing their accuracy, and thereby changing the severity of the threat they pose. . . . [While] Iran and Hizballah had little choice but to absorb Israeli strikes in Syria, hitting targets inside Lebanon would precipitate retaliation. As Israel worked to reduce the threat from Syria, the threat from Lebanese soil therefore continued to grow. . . .
With Iran and Hizballah holding their positions in Syria, and no longer concerned about the collapse of their Syrian client Bashar al-Assad, the Lebanon problem is now firmly back at center stage. Hizballah and its Lebanese government are betting the bipartisan embrace by U.S. policymakers of the fiction of Lebanese state institutions—which in reality are controlled by, and provide institutional cover for, Hizballah—will complicate any Israeli decision to act against the strategic threat being posed by Iran. [But] it seems unlikely that Israel will accept a large arsenal of guided missiles controlled by Iran and targeting its major population centers and strategic sites as part of a new regional status quo.
Instead of confining itself within Hizballah’s preferred rules of engagement, and thereby cementing the group’s dangerous delusion that it has achieved deterrence—a delusion that is likely to lead to further aggression—Israel might consider throwing the ball in Hizballah’s court. If [the terrorist group] thinks itself immune in Lebanon, even now that the Syrian war is decided, it should think again. . . .
While the political and [diplomatic] risks of such a conflict are very real, as are the lives of Israeli civilians, to say nothing of the Lebanese who are being used as human shields by Iran and Hizballah, these risks would only worsen with a large alteration of the strategic status quo in Iran’s favor, which is likely to lead to an exponentially greater loss of life on the Israeli side of the border.