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Opinion

Why Israel shrugs at retaliation after attack on Iran

The threat of a simultaneous war with Iran's proxies – Hezbollah, Syria, and Gaza militants – is a key consideration for Israel as it weighs an attack on Iran. But Iran’s allies may not be as keen about going to war for the ayatollahs as Tehran would like, and the Israelis know it.

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Mr. Nasrallah’s hesitation is understandable. Entering into broad conflict with Israel would result in even greater destruction to Lebanon than in the 2006 Lebanon war. This time, Hezbollah would be unable to replenish its stockpiles or rebuild destroyed villages so easily. Nasrallah’s guarantor in Damascus is on his last legs, while his primary bankrollers in Tehran have already cut funding to the group as a result of sanctions and diversion of resources to Syria.

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Further, entering into a conflict with Israel would likely severely damage Nasrallah’s private militia, benefitting his sectarian rivals by stripping him of the only warranty of his political hegemony in Lebanon.

Next door in Syria, Assad faces similar concerns. A conflict with Israel could compromise his military advantage over an increasingly powerful rebel army, including the chemical weapons stockpiles so necessary in securing the protection of Alawite enclaves as the civil war intensifies.

Meanwhile, Iran’s relationship with militant groups in the Gaza Strip has witnessed a dramatic shift in the midst of the Arab Spring. As Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior leader of Hamas in Gaza, put it in March, “If Israel attacks us, we will respond. If they don’t, we will not get involved in any regional conflict” – though an Iranian report had him directly contradicting that statement and promising to retaliate “with utmost power.”

Regardless of how the Iranian media may present Mr. Zahar, Hamas seems to be returning to its Sunni loyalties, cozying up to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and away from Iran. Further, the trauma from the 2009 armed conflict with Israel in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, continues to keep rockets off the Hamas launching pad. The sole mission of a  300-strong guerrilla force employed by Hamas is to impede rocket attacks by smaller splinter groups. Such attacks have recently flared.

Despite the weakened state of Iran’s proxies, an Israeli strike on the ayatollah’s nuclear program will not be without consequence. Hezbollah and splinter Gaza militant groups are likely to attack Israel in a display of their solidarity, albeit only in a limited effort. Judging from past flare-ups, these groups understand Israel’s red lines, knowing exactly what ranges and what rates in which to fire their rockets while avoiding drawing the Israel into a confrontation which could compromise their grip on power.

Netanyahu seems willing to go down in history as the prime minister who saved Isrel from a nuclear Iran. And he’s counting on minimal retaliation from Iran’s proxies if Israel strikes first. But as Barbara Tuchman, the World War I historian, once said, “war is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

Daniel Nisman is an intelligence manager at Max Security Solutions, a risk consulting firm based in Tel Aviv. You can follow him on Twitter @dannynis. Avi Nave is a political consultant based in Tel Aviv. A version of this op-ed appeared in Israel Hayom.

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