The worsening crisis battering Syria threatens more than the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It also carries with it the potential to recast the balance of power in the Middle East, with damaging results for Iran and conceivably disastrous consequences for its allies -- Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Given the magnitude of the stakes for these players, one can argue that it would make strategic sense from their perspective to try to lure Israel into a more intense armed conflict: not an all-out war, but clashes powerful enough to garner headlines and capture the attention and emotions of the Arab world.
The wars Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006 and against Hamas in 2008-2009 showed that a conflict with Israel all but ensures a passionate groundswell of support in the Middle East. The players could then leverage that intensity of emotion to turn the tide of events in their favor. The battlefield experience, however, also showed that a sustained military encounter with Israel can take a costly toll in lives, ammunition and infrastructure. Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention Syria, would rather not see their arsenals destroyed. But they could benefit enormously from the resurgence of support that would follow a dramatic news-making, face-to-face dust up with what they call the "Zionist entity."
Achieving such a delicate balance -- somewhere between serious clash and war -- requires a degree of calibration that is all but impossible in the unpredictable dynamics of armed conflict. And yet, there is ample evidence that segments of Hamas, probably encouraged by Iran and Syria, have already begun to deploy this push-and-pull of provocation and restraint.