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Geopolitics

Israel Must Target Iran at the Same Time as Hezbollah

While the Hezbollah threat must be addressed, stopping Iran from obtaining nukes needs to be the ultimate objective.

When contemplating the prospect of a wider conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel faces several critical questions.

Does it possess sufficient weaponry, especially air-to-ground bombs, to effectively wage such a war? Are its soldiers adequately prepared, and rested enough following nine months of conflict in Gaza against Hamas? Does it have an ample supply of interceptors for its missile defense systems—Iron Dome for short-range rockets, David’s Sling for medium-range and cruise missiles, and Arrow for potential long-range ballistic missiles from Iran, Iraq, or Syria? Can Israel depend on sustained U.S. support to replenish its resources as needed?

If the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, another pivotal consideration arises: Should Israel simultaneously consider striking Iran’s nuclear facilities while engaging Hezbollah?

The reason this would make sense is because a war with Iran almost definitely means a war with Hezbollah and the April missile assault from Iran against Israel shows the converse is likely to be true. Some of the people advising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made the argument that if Israel is going to war against one, it should seriously consider trying to eliminate the threat that the other poses at the same time.

Hezbollah is Iran’s most potent proxy and a cornerstone of Tehran’s strategy of exporting the revolution to other parts of the Middle East. The group’s formidable missile arsenal and military capabilities—built up by Iran over decades and capable of causing a level of devastation never seen before in Israel—serve a dual purpose: deterring Israel from targeting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and entangling Israel in a protracted conflict along the Lebanese border.

This strategy, of weakening and distracting Israel, has worked quite well from Iran’s perspective since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

If Israel launches a large-scale offensive against Hezbollah now—totally justified due to the daily rocket and drone barrages from Lebanon—we can already predict how the war will end. Large parts of Lebanon will be destroyed, and Hezbollah will be significantly weakened. But it will survive, and with Iran’s help, Hezbollah will rearm and rebuild. This is exactly what happened after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 was supposed to stop the smuggling of weapons from Iran, but as the 18 years since have shown, Hezbollah has grown significantly stronger.

Prior to Oct. 7, top intelligence officers in the IDF were conflicted on whether an Israeli attack on Iran would automatically mean a war with Hezbollah. In the aftermath of Iran’s direct attack against Israel in April though, the assessment in Israel today is almost unanimous and the prevalent belief is that an Israeli war with Hezbollah or Iran almost definitely means war with the other as well.

A war with Hezbollah now would create a short window of about a year or two during which Israel will be able to attack Iran without needing to fear another Hezbollah retaliation. Anything longer than that will see Hezbollah rearmed, necessitating a new round with Israel’s enemy in Lebanon after it attacks Iran.

If Israel is ready to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities now, then it might make sense to go to war against Hezbollah. But, if it is not prepared, or if it plans to give international diplomacy another chance, then a larger war with Hezbollah now would be premature. Instead, Israel should hold back on a war with Hezbollah until it decides to try and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

We must accept that the likelihood of a global effort against Iran’s nuclear facilities is low, and judging by the past, Israel will be left on its own to stop Iran just like it did Iraq in 1981 by bombing that nation’s Osirak reactor, and again in 2007 when it bombed the al Kibar reactor in Syria.

There is also no doubt that the situation in northern Israel is unsustainable. Israel is getting hit daily with barrages of rockets and explosive drones and has evacuated about 80,000 people from the border area. They and many others are demanding a military offensive in Lebanon to allow them to return home.

Nevertheless, the government needs to take a nuanced and strategic approach. While the immediate threat that Hezbollah poses Israel must be addressed, Israel’s long-term security needs cannot be ignored. Iran is the greater threat and preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon needs to remain the country’s ultimate objective.

Newsweek