Skip to main content

Hezbollah contemplates next move

Israel’s president extends a hand to Iran, putting the ball in Hezbollah and Tehran's court.

When on Dec. 8 Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “Iran is not an enemy,” it did not go unnoticed. On the one hand, this stance was not surprising for a person who has long sought to portray himself as having a project for Middle East peace based on economic development and cooperation between countries. Peres did not come from the military’s ranks and he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiations with the Palestinians that led to the Oslo agreement. On the other hand, Peres’ move was politically shrewd because it called for an Iranian response.

Peres matched President Hassan Rouhani’s openness with a similar openness, distinguishing himself from Israel's far right wing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, on Nov. 24, described the US-Iran agreement as, "not a historic agreement, but a historic mistake." Netanyahu attacked Rouhani from the podium at the UN General Assembly and described Rouhani as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It is, of course, possible that Peres' words were coordinated with Netanyahu, probably because they both understand that the campaign of skepticism and rejection waged against the US-Iranian agreement by Israel not only risks harming Israel’s strategic relations with the United States, but also portrays Iran as a positive and cooperative partner and Israel as closed-minded and spoiled.

How will Iran’s hard-liners, represented by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its moderate wing, represented by Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, respond to Peres’ move? Today, the ball may be in Hezbollah’s court, given that the group is the military arm of the Revolutionary Guards along Israel’s borders. Hezbollah, which built its ideology on ​​absolute hostility to Israel, has two bad options.

The first option is to approach the Israeli position positively by remaining quiet. Silence is a sign of approval, as the Arab proverb goes. This choice would draw a barrage of criticism, especially since the party has made its anti-Israel ideology the primary pretext for keeping its arms outside the control of the Lebanese state to the point that the issue has eroded the state and weakened the social contract among the Lebanese people. The second option is for Hezbollah to escalate against Peres, thus exposing Israel’s game. This will strain the US-Iranian dialogue, which has thus far produced an agreement that Hezbollah has called a victory for Iranian diplomacy.

Hezbollah may instead focus even more on the emerging enemy, that is, the extremist and jihadist forces fighting the Syrian regime. This too, however, has its costs. By fighting these groups, which have carried out attacks reaching into the heart of Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, the war’s flames have licked Saudi Arabia, which Hezbollah has accused of being directly behind the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

This direct, surprising and legally groundless accusation rattled so much as to trigger a response from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, as Lebanon has no interest in straining its relationship with such a major Arab Sunni power. Bad relations with Saudi Arabia will further harm Lebanese society, which is already stewing in sectarianism. Suleiman is counting on his relationship with the Saudis to deal with Lebanon’s economic challenges, particularly those caused by the massive influx of Syrian refugees, who have so far cost the Lebanese economy $7 billion. About 200,000 Lebanese work in Saudi Arabia, and bad Saudi-Lebanese relations could harm them as well.

The escalation against Saudi Arabia incurs economic and political costs not only for Lebanon, but also for Iranian diplomacy and the efforts of Tehran's foreign minister, who was touring the Gulf states, hoping eventually to break the ice between Iran and Saudi Arabia, when Hezbollah hurled its accusation about the embassy attack.

So the questions are as follows: Did Hezbollah coordinate its new and harsh position toward Saudi Arabia with Zarif’s team or was it independent of Tehran? Was it directed against Zarif? Does Hezbollah’s escalation against a pivotal state in the region at the Arab and Islamic levels serve Iran’s new policy of openness, which has begun to reap dividends by easing economic sanctions and normalizing its relations with the international community?

It is true that Iran has extensive experience in diplomacy, is skilled in managing contradictory internal positions and is deft at using them to further its interests, especially since the most important decisions are made by the supreme leader. It is also true, however, that all the cards in Middle Eastern hands have been exposed. The parties have put everything on the table.

The sanctions on Iran have caused real harm, leaving the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to face some tough choices. The ongoing war in Syria, in its sectarian dimensions, has placed prohibitive costs on all the parties involved, and nothing indicates that the war will soon be over. The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said, "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." The costly, eight-year Iran-Iraq War is still fresh in everyone’s minds. All those factors suggest that the policies of defiance and of exporting the revolution are waning, which will force a change in the political discourse.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial