Israel, Hezbollah: Has deterrence worked?
As anniversary of Hezbollah commander Mughniyah's assassination looms, Israel tightens security.
When Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's top military commander, was assassinated by a car bomb in Damascus one year ago, the militant Shiite group blamed Israel – which denied involvement – and vowed revenge. But a year on, that vow remains unfulfilled.Skip to next paragraph
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While Israel is taking no chances and has tightened security ahead of the Mughniyah anniversary, Israeli officials repeatedly have claimed that threats of massive retaliation to a Hezbollah revenge attack have deterred the Shiite group.
"On the one hand, Hezbollah is driven by its desire to carry out an attack as revenge for the death of Mughniyah ... but they do not want to start a war," Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's military intelligence chief, told the Israeli cabinet in a briefing two weeks ago.
Deterrence and counterdeterrence have shaped the Israeli-Arab conflict for decades. Israel relies on the threat of overwhelming military force to cow its Arab enemies. While its military superiority in the past has dealt crushing blows to Arab conventional armies, Israel has struggled to find a means of deterring a new generation of enemies, the smaller sub-state guerrilla movements exemplified by Hezbollah and Hamas.
"These guys are not intimidated by the Israelis," says Timur Goksel, former senior official with the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon. "They are ideologically driven and don't have the same responsibilities as a state."
That is why many analysts in Lebanon believe that Hezbollah will respond to Mr. Mughniyah's assassination with a calculated strategic blow to deter further assassinations and restore a balance of deterrence between the two foes.
"The retaliation is a strategic necessity for Hezbollah. In fact, it would be suicidal if Hezbollah did not respond," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese specialist on the group.
Analysts say Hezbollah's targeting and timing of a retaliation is more dependent on its multiple, sometimes conflicting, obligations toward its Lebanese Shiite constituents, domestic political allies, ideological interests, and backers in Syria and Iran. Few doubt that a reprisal will come.
"It is necessary to respond to the killing of martyr leader ... Mughniyah to punish the killers," said Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, in a press conference two weeks ago.