This week's deadly clashes along the Israeli Lebanon border have pierced an uneasy calm that has prevailed in the region since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah, and prompted Middle East watchers to worry aloud whether this is the trigger point for a return to war that they have long feared. While it is too soon to know if that's the case, it is clear the stakes are rising for Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Hizbollah.
In a report released by the International Crisis Group the day before the fighting erupted, we explained that the principal reason for the tenuous peace in the Israeli-Lebanese arena for the past four years is that both sides have feared that the next confrontation could be far worse than those in the past. None of the parties seem to know what will tip the delicate balance between peace and war. "The world should cross its fingers that fear of a catastrophic conflict will continue to be reason enough for the parties not to provoke one," the report says.
Drawing on interviews with officials from Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Hizbollah, the report finds that the deterrence regime has perpetuated mutually reinforcing military preparations and spawned an underground war of espionage and assassinations. In the immediate term, the report recommends that the parties restore momentum on UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war, clarify their red lines, minimize risks of accidental confrontation, and open better channels of communication. In the longer term, the only answer is to resume and conclude meaningful negotiations between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
For more about what steps can be taken to minimize the risk for return to all-out war, I spoke with Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Program Director, Robert Malley, and you can hear our extended conversation below.
You can also read our report "Drums of War" here.