Whether or not to add a Lebanese front to the Gaza war is a very difficult decision for Hezbollah.
So far, Mr. Nassrallah is only using his “soft power”. Relying on his prestige and influence among Arab masses, he urged Egyptians to break open the walls of Rafah with their “bare chests”. Whether his prime-time TV address makes a difference is not clear yet, but Hezbollah has a big question in its mind at this moment: Should it join the war and open another front?
While some might find the question easy to answer, Hezbollah strategists and game theorists have their work cut out for them; not joining the war is risky because it would demonstrate that the 2006 war did put an end to Hezbollah’s ability to poke Israel when it wants to relieve Hamas. That would undermine Hezbollah’s entire narrative of victory against Israel in 2006 and show weakness.
At the same time, joining the war isn’t easy. Lebanon is not yet ready for a re-run of July 2006, and Mr. Nassrallah knows that the Israelis would be even more deadly and ruthless this time around. The Lebanese President and the minister of Defense pointedly made the point from the southern border that while we should all vocally protest the Israeli aggression on Gaza, Lebanon is no launching pad for Missiles.
There are other reasons why Hezbollah should think twice before joining Hamas in its fight. The cheap price of oil has put a financial strain on Hezbollah’s main backer Iran. This means that reimbursing people whose houses were destroyed will not be easy this time, let alone replenishing their stocks of expensive missiles.
Also, by joining the war Hezbollah risks postponing Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2009. As things stand, Hezbollah and its allies have a decent shot at gaining a majority in the parliament and rolling back last last 3 years of anti-Syrian dominance. Politically, Hezbollah is right where it wants to be at this moment and the last thing it needs is a war that might compromise its internal standing.
So what is a Party of God to do?
Do what Sayyed Hassan is doing: Use strong rhetoric and secretly hope that international and Arab pressure will end the war as soon as possible. If all else fails, provoke the Israelis into doing something stupid in Lebanon and pounce on the opportunity. After all, as they all say: “They started this!”