From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No.185, October 23, 2012, by Dr. Ehud Eilam*:
... in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran ...Hizballah and Hamas ...participation will be limited at best.
Hizballah must consider its
crumbling support from the weakened Assad regime, as well as popular opposition
within Lebanon to its role in military conflict with Israel. Hamas’ recent feud
with Iran over the group’s lack of support for the Assad regime could render it
reluctant to assist in the fight against Israel...
Hizballah – Not the
Right Time for War
Hizballah represents an
Iranian presence in Lebanon and possesses 80,000 missiles and rockets that can
hit almost anywhere in Israel. ...Hizballah might not dare refuse a direct order from Tehran to retaliate.
Yet Iran might order Hizballah to launch a limited attack, as starting a
full-scale war might not serve Iranian interests at the time. If Hizballah
shells Israel, the Jewish state would launch a massive offensive aimed at
pounding the terror organization and reducing its capability to launch missiles
and rockets from Lebanon. Iran might not be willing to take that risk,
particularly since it might also lose Syria, which would undermine Iran’s grip
in the Levant.
Iran is currently trying
to help keep the Assad regime afloat. Iran might choose to concentrate its
efforts in assisting Assad instead of waging war against Israel. On the other
hand, Iran might conclude that it should encourage Assad to attack Israel while
he still can, in order to divert the worldwide attention away from himself. If
the Assad regime crumbles, Hizballah would not only lose an important ally but
might have to deal with a sworn enemy, the Sunnis in Syria, if that group
seizes power there. The Sunnis, as part of a revenge campaign against those who
assisted Assad, might collaborate with anti Hizballah elements in Lebanon.
Hizballah might need to save his resources for what could be its biggest test
Additionally, Israel has
warned several times that during a war with Hizballah the Lebanese
infrastructure might be bombed. Therefore, following an Israeli attack on Iran,
Hizballah might face a strong demand from within Lebanon not to respond to Israel.
This demand would come from the many Lebanese who hate Hizballah and/or Iran,
as well as from those who tolerate and even support Hizballah but are opposed
to turning their country into a battlefield once again. In the next war the
destruction in Lebanon could be worse than in 1982 and 2006.
Hamas – Better to Stay
Hamas refused to back the
Assad regime’s attacks on its own citizens, although some of its leaders spent
the past few years in Damascus, enjoying the government’s support. This refusal
not only caused a rift between Hamas and Syria, but with Iran as well;
therefore, Hamas might ignore Iran’s request to intervene in a war against
Hamas would not
necessarily wish to provoke an Israel engaged in conflict with Iran. Even if Israel
focuses on Iran and Hizballah in Lebanon there would be enough Israeli troops
to deal with Hamas as well. The last major skirmish between Israel and Hamas in
December 2008–January 2009 received world attention that limited the Israeli
operation. In the case of a confrontation pitting Israel against Iran and
Hizballah, a clash between Hamas and Israel would be an unwatched sideshow that
would allow Israel to deliver a devastating and unrestricted blow to the Hamas.
Hamas’ policy largely
depends on if the Arab world, particularly Egypt and its Muslim Brotherhood
government, come to the rescue. Egypt, whose government is busy dealing with
economic problems, might convince Hamas not to do battle with Israel, fearing
that it would become entangled in the war. Egypt doesn’t want Hamas to risk
itself, let alone Egypt, for the benefit of Iran unless it serves a vital
Egyptian interest, such as the militarizing of the Sinai. Egypt could use an
Israeli attack on Hamas as a justification to deploy forces in the northeastern
Sinai. Yet this would be a dangerous move for Egypt and might not be worth it,
considering the ramifications and its other priorities.
Without Hamas, Iran would
be left with its last proxy in the Gaza Strip, the Islamic Jihad. This
organization is much smaller than Hamas but could initiate a serious of strikes
against Israel, hoping to drag Hamas into the brawl. Hamas would be caught in
the middle, torn between trying to restrain Islamic Jihad from initiating a
conflict with Israel and trying not to appear weak.
If Israel attacks Iran,
Hamas would probably stay out of it. Hizballah and its Iranian patrons might
hesitate because of Syria and the concern about the political future of
Hizballah in Lebanon. Hizballah would open fire on Israel but would not start
an all-out war. They might wait for a better opportunity, such as when Iran
gets the bomb.
*Dr. Ehud Eilam is the
US representative of
Israel Defense magazine. He is a former private contractor for the Israeli
Ministry of Defense where, among other duties, he conducted research on
different branches of the Israeli military. He recently published an article on a potential future war
between Israel and Egypt.