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Hezbollah Gave Israel a Text-Book Lesson in Retaliation Without Escalation

posted on: Feb 13, 2015

Israeli leaders are bent on imprinting in our minds that Israel seeks peace while our enemies’ fanaticism keeps forcing us into war. But perhaps Israel has been a willing agent in inflaming conflicts with its enemies Hezbollah and Hamas. How? By escalating the level of violence when retaliating against their attacks, rather than pursuing a strategy that’s more disposed to managing the conflict.

Israel could learn a thing or two from Hezbollah on this front. Two weeks of silence since the latest round of fighting have proven that Hezbollah’s strike on Har Dov was a textbook example of retaliation without escalation. That is, it demonstrated how two enemies can end a round of conflict without negotiation, mediation or a cease-fire agreement.

In the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, the militant group followed to a fault the proscription of scholar Robert Axelrod on how to employ a “tit for tat” strategy to induce cooperation without the need for negotiation or written agreements. Axelrod’s theory suggests striking back without escalating while communicating that one will cooperate if their opponent cooperates and respond in kind if their opponent cheats.

Hezbollah had avoided incursions into sovereign Israeli territory for a year prior to the strike attributed to Israel on a convoy in Syria that killed Jihad Mughniyeh and others. Hezbollah responded in measured kind with the Har Dov attack. After that incident, it immediately communicated to Israel that it considered the matter of the Mughniyeh killing over. Finally, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced that the group would retaliate should Israel continue to attack its positions.