After the Quneitra attack that Israel launched Jan. 18 and Hezbollah responded to in Shebaa Farms Jan. 28, it appeared that Hezbollah and Israel have one thing in common — neither of them wants an escalation.
Hezbollah proved that it still can fight fire with fire and that its power of deterrence still stands.
Although this confrontation did not change anything in the balance of power or the rules of engagement, it shed light on a main variable: Iran’s attempt to fight Israel through the Golan Heights. This way, Iran would expand its presence along Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Notably, Hezbollah officially acknowledged that Iran was participating on the ground in Syria. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's statements about the fusion of Iranian and Lebanese blood in the fighting in Quneitra revealed cards that had been hidden in the past.
In Lebanon, despite the severe division between the Future Movement and Hezbollah regarding the latter’s role in Syria, both parties have engaged in a dialogue since December 2014 and persist without any remarkable breakthrough or result. The dialogue has not succeeded in a breakthrough in the presidential crisis by selecting a consensual candidate. Other pending issues remain unresolved as well, such as Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and its negative impact on Sunni groups that have been sympathetic with the Syrian revolution since its outbreak. The government’s work on numerous economic and social matters is still impeded, and no agreement has been reached on an approach to launch the growth cycle and to seek solutions. The only agreement that came to fruition involved removing religious slogans to contain the sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites that threatens security and stability.
Oddly enough, the dialogue continues, despite its delicate achievements. But it did not deter Hezbollah from carrying out the Shebaa Farms operation, despite the dangers involved regarding Israel’s anticipated response. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s talk about “a definite Lebanese war” led by Israel proves that this small country is on edge, despite the talks. What's even more bizarre is that Hezbollah’s dialogue with the Future Movement continues, despite the latter’s concerns and suspicions regarding the former’s intentions.
Future Movement Media Relations Officer Rached Fayed told Al-Monitor: “This dialogue will not produce any real gains. It just allows the containment of Sunni extremism.”
The shared fear of Sunni extremism is the only common ground between the two parties at the negotiating table, since everything else has separated them.
“Hezbollah does not want permanent stability, but at the same time, it does not want to disturb stability either,” Fayed added. Perhaps Hezbollah has its hands full on other fronts and in the battlefield in Syria where it is defending Assad’s regime. The party is also busy protecting its Lebanese stronghold following the attacks on the Bekaa Valley, its strategic stronghold, waged by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra-affiliated militants. Now is not a good time for Hezbollah to open another front with Israel or tighten the noose on Lebanon.
Fayed assessed the comparison of the situation in Yemen with Hezbollah’s behavior in Lebanon, saying: “Hezbollah, just like the Houthis, is walking in the footsteps of the Soviet Red Army. After scoring in the field, it tends to appease the situation and reassure everyone, only to strike again.”
Fayed said that Lebanon and Yemen are different in terms of sectarian balances and components. It's not easy for one party or sect to control Lebanon, especially with the status quo and the raging sectarian strife across the Middle East.
The point is that “delicate stability” is currently what both parties want, because permanent stability is impossible and perhaps undesired. In any case, permanent stability would require consensus over core matters including but not limited to the stance vis-a-vis the Syrian revolution, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Another option would be an open war, which is not in anybody’s interest, at least for the time being.