By: Meir Javedanfar
The new round of Katyusha attacks by Hezbollah have increased the possibility that a second front may open in the north. There are questions about the timing and motivation of the new attacks.
What these attacks primarily show is that Iran is worried, for a number of valid reasons:
So far, after 19 days of fighting, the international community, especially the West is still not reigning in on Israel’s operation in Gaza. This does not bode well in Iran’s dealings with the EU and the expected upcoming negotiations with the US. Iranian strategists will be justified to ask: if the West is ignoring Iran now, how will it treat Iran over the all important nuclear negotiations? How quickly is this affair reducing Iran’s position vis a vi the West? What will this do to Iran’s position in the future?
There is also the question of Iran’s balance of power politics with moderate Arab states in the region. Since the beginning the fighting, numerous trips have been made by Iranian officials such as Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili, and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani to regional countries such as Syria and more recently to Turkey. In all such trips, through their connections, they have tried to place pressure on Egypt, while rejecting the terms of the French – Egyptian peace proposal. Larijani even went as far as calling it a “honey injected with poison”. However these statements and efforts have still nothing yielded results. Egypt is still pressuring Hamas against Iran’s wishes while the EU and US for now seem to extend Israel’s visa in Gaza.
The Katyusha attacks this morning from the north were meant to send a message to Israel that Iran still maintains its powerful Hezbollah card and reserves the right to use it, if Tehran’s interests continue to be ignored or worst, threatened. Therefore current attitudes have to change and Iran’s point of view must be taken into consideration.
However it is probably unlikely that Iran will want a full war between Israel and Hezbollah, and this is why Palestinian militant factions are being used instead of Hezbollah to launch the attacks. Such a war could cost Hezbollah politically in the upcoming Lebanese elections in May 2009. It would make it very easy for Hezbollah’s rivals to justify their claims that Hezbollah is an Iranian puppet.
Also, so far in his career, Ayatollah Khamenei has been known to be a savvy politician. He has already seen how Hamas is in trouble. Would he be willing to risk losing two assets (Hamas and Hezbollah) in one fight? Some Iran analysts would disagree. However if he is willing to do that, Khamenei may be about to make a big mistake as such actions justify claims by Israel and the moderate Arab states that Iran is an element of instability in the region and thus it should be isolated even more. In the future, this could cost the Iranians in their efforts to improve their position in the region, especially if Obama is brought around to the anti Iran camp.
It would be in Israel’s interest to contain its response. For now, Israel seems to be placing significant pressure on Hamas and is winning in the diplomatic front. Focusing on the current struggle against Hamas and winning it will do much more damage to Iran and Hezbollah, than by opening a full second front in the north.