by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, July 27 (Xinhua) — Israeli forces on the northern border are on high alert Monday as they wait for a possible Hezbollah retaliation for the killing of one of its operatives last week.
The militant was killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israel has not taken responsibility for the airstrike, but in the last years, it has carried out hundreds of such strikes aimed at curbing Iranian influence in the region.
The strike killed a number of foreign fighters stationed in Syria, including the Hezbollah militant who is not considered a senior member of the group.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a major war in 2006 and since then have maintained a delicate balance of conflicts with short flare-ups throughout the years. Considered an Iranian proxy, Israel sees the Lebanese militant organization as one of its main adversaries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop Iran from fortifying its presence along the country’s borders, both with Syria and Lebanon.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have increased their presence along the border since late last week, including the deployment of mobile air defense systems in the area.
“For Israel, a confrontation with Hezbollah is essentially a confrontation with Iran,” said Sarit Zehavi, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and founder of the Alma Research and Education Center on Israel’s Security Challenges on its Northern Borders.
“There are Iranian symbols and flags on the border. Once Hezbollah used to hide this, it no longer does now,” Zehavi said.
Amid the tension, top U.S. military officer Mark Milley made an unannounced visit to Israel on Friday in order to discuss regional developments.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Milley that Israel sees “the need to continue the pressure on Iran and its proxies.”
“We are not likely to see a war, but rather an isolated incident that both Israel and Hezbollah want to keep as,” said Eyal Zisser, an expert on the Middle East from the Tel Aviv University.
Last year, Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets into Israel in response to a similar attack in which two of its militants were killed. It was a rare intensification that quickly ended.
“In the end, we will not be able to avoid an escalation, whether be it now or later,” Zehavi said. “This has been largely avoided for 14 years but not sustainable for long.”
For now, it seems both sides are trying to take measured responses to avoid a spiraling dynamic.
As a major political force in Lebanon, Hezbollah cannot afford to alienate its supporters home by bringing on another war on Israel. The last one has left major scars both in Lebanon and in Israel.
“A war is not inevitable, as long as each side maintains control,” Zisser added. Enditem