Hizballah’s attack that killed two soldiers on Wednesday was the very minimum retaliation Israel could realistically expect following an air strike earlier this month on a Hizballah convoy in southern Syria. The Lebanese militia appears to want this episode to draw to a close, a message it delivered to Israel via UN peacekeepers. The more pressing question is whether Israel will let the matter drop.
It is not surprising that Quneitra province in southern Syria, where Israel’s air strike occurred, has become a flashpoint. Israel, on the one hand, and Hizballah and Iran, on the other, have been sucked into the relative power vacuum created there since the Syrian army lost its grip on the territory last summer. Israel appears to prefer that the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran remain trapped in an endless struggle against the opposition saps their resources and military strength.
An Israeli air strike in southern Syria on Sunday that killed 12 commanders from the Lebanese militia Hizballah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard follows a long and ignoble tradition in Israeli politics. Prime ministers facing poor ratings have often been tempted to launch a major military offensive in the middle of an election campaign. The strike was not only the biggest against Hizballah since the conflict with Israel in summer 2006, but – more significantly – Israel’s first undisguised military clash with Iran.
The Paris killings have reinforced Israeli suspicions that Europe, with its rapidly growing Muslim population, is being dragged into a clash of civilisations it is ill-equipped to combat. And the targeting of a kosher supermarket that killed four Jews has heightened a belief that Jews outside Israel are in mortal danger. In Netanyahu’s conception, a Jew’s primary bond should be to their “true home”, the Jewish state of Israel. Paradoxically, that view is shared by Europe’s far-right.