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'Balance of terror' sustains tense calm between Hezbollah and Israel

On the fifth anniversary of the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, the border remains calm as both sides worry about the scale of devastation a new war would bring.

By Correspondent, Correspondent / July 12, 2011



Beirut, Lebanon; and Tel Aviv, Israel

As Lebanon’s militant Shiite group Hezbollah and the Israeli army prepare to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2006 war on Tuesday, the tense calm along the traditionally volatile Lebanon-Israel border is being tested by recent regional developments.

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Still, analysts say, the calm should hold for now. The durability of the “balance of terror” that has helped deter another conflict is rooted in the reluctance of Hezbollah and Israel to embark upon another conflict that both appreciate will be of a far greater magnitude than that of 2006.

“Despite all the rhetoric, I think the calm will prevail. Both sides cannot afford to start another war. The next one will be a major war with extreme destructiveness,” says Timur Goksel, a lecturer on conflict resolution in Beirut and former long-serving official with the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.

That view from Beirut is echoed in Tel Aviv, underlining the awareness on either side of the border of the terrible consequences for both countries if another war should occur.

“We’ve never witnessed such a quiet border since the 1960s. No doubt about it,” says Eyal Zisser, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University. Israel and Hezbollah “are both committed to doing what they can to prevent a new round of violence.”

The 2006 war

The month-long war in 2006 broke out on July 12 when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers along the border. Israel responded by launching air attacks against Lebanese infrastructure and Hezbollah targets which quickly escalated into a full-blown conflict.

Hezbollah, which had not sought a war with Israel, had miscalculated Israel’s response to its kidnapping operation. But the Israeli government of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, and the Israeli army, miscalculated the capabilities of their Lebanese enemy.

The war ended inconclusively after a month. Hezbollah celebrated a “divine victory” over Israel, but it came at the cost of yielding the southern border district to the Lebanese Army and a strengthened United Nations peacekeeping force. Since then, Hezbollah has established new lines of defense, recruited and trained thousands of new fighters, devised fresh battle tactics, and augmented its arsenal with guided rockets capable of striking almost any target in Israel.

Israel was humiliated by its poor military performance in 2006 and its deterrence posture was undermined. It has since retrained its army and introduced new weapons systems geared toward the asymmetrical conflict with Hezbollah, including a multitiered antirocket shield.

'Balance of terror'

Should another war break out, the level of destruction on both sides of the border could be unparalleled in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead of being confined to the traditional theater of south Lebanon and northern Israel, the next war will likely encompass the territories of both countries. Yet the “balance of terror” remains inherently unstable and none of the underlying drivers that led to war in 2006 have been resolved.

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