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Hezbollah in a Corner

BEIRUT – The future of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s powerful Shia political and paramilitary organization, has never looked more uncertain. Indeed, given rising tension with Israel and possible indictments of its operatives by the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri, Hezbollah appears to be hemmed in on all sides.

The most immediate question concerns the possibility of another Israel-Hezbollah war, fears of which have mounted throughout this year, fueled by reports of new missile transfers to Hezbollah and intermittent threats from Israel. Those who foresee war argue that Israel is unwilling to tolerate a heavily armed Iranian proxy on its border while tensions with Iran over the nuclear issue remain unresolved.

Although war is unlikely in the coming months, if sanctions on Iran don’t bear fruit by early 2011, Israel might feel the need to act. If it launched military strikes on Iran’s nuclear installations, Hezbollah would likely join the fray and Israel would have to engage Hezbollah at the same time. Alternatively, Israel might launch a pre-emptive war against Hezbollah in order to rob Iran of a nearby retaliatory capacity.

Hezbollah is preparing intensively for such scenarios, building defenses, digging tunnels, and assembling a powerful missile arsenal. But, although Hezbollah’s preparations are likely to ensure its survival, it would be hard-pressed to justify to the Lebanese public a strategy that led to two ruinous wars in the span of five years.