Opinion: Israel needs to stop distinguishing between Hezbollah and Lebanon

It’s time for Israel to do away with the artificial distinction between the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist group and the country harboring it.

By Eyal Zisser, JNS

Israel has always made it a point to differentiate between its conflict with Hezbollah and its dealings with Lebanon, where the Iranian proxy dwells.

While there is a growing call in Lebanon to strip Hezbollah from its political power and weapons alike, it is still not loud enough to actually make that happen.

The regional circumstances have changed, but Israel’s artificial distinction between the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorist group and the country harboring it has remained binding.

It seems that Israel cannot fathom the fact that nowadays, there is a symbiotic relationship between Beirut and the viper nestled at its heart. Hezbollah wields enormous political power in Lebanon, where it virtually controls parliament and where the government cowers to the dictates of the Shi’ite terrorist group exploiting it to further its agenda.

One can understand why the Americans are willing to believe that Hezbollah and Lebanon are two separate entities, and there is no need to explain why the French and the Russians choose not to see reality as it is; but it is hard to understand why Israel is willing to all but defend the state harboring Hezbollah.

Israel must remember that despite the hubris displayed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, his organization fears war with Israel, as it knows that the price it will be made to pay would be far more painful than the one it may exact from Israel.

Israel does not hesitate to exact a price from Damascus over any errant fire over the Israel-Syria border, thus sending Syrian President Bashar Assad a very clear message. Perhaps it is time to employ this policy where Beirut is concerned.

The Lebanese army does nothing to prevent Hezbollah’s operations and it may even be aiding them. This makes Lebanese forces a legitimate target for Israel.

Hezbollah is at its lowest point in decades and is more vulnerable than ever. There is no reason for Israel to be wary of it or let it have the upper hand. If anything, Israel must take advantage of its weakness to force it—and the Lebanese government—to adhere to new rules in the regional game.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.