In examining the rules generated by SOMA about Hezbollah's behavior, the most striking finding was the correlation between Hezbollah attacks on Israeli citizens and Lebanese elections. Since the re-establishment of Lebanon's parliamentary democracy in 1992, there was a 62 percent chance Hezbollah would target Israeli civilians (primarily through rocket attacks) in any given year through 2004. In off-election years the likelihood jumped to 78 percent, while in election years the probability was negligible. The one election year in which Hezbollah fired rockets at Israel was 1996. Though Hezbollah won a propaganda victory when Israel's response caused heavy Lebanese civilian casualties, the organization lost parliament seats in the 1996 elections. Hezbollah has since sought to keep its fighting with Israel within certain boundaries, avoided major escalations during election years, and re-emphasized its provision of social services within Lebanon.
The test for any model is whether or not its predictions hold. During Israel's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, there was concern that Hezbollah would initiate a second front to aid its ally. But Hezbollah offered only rhetorical support to Hamas. During the Gaza operation, a few rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel and Hezbollah quickly and credibly denied responsibility. With an election later in the year, Hezbollah determined that it could not risk renewed violence with Israel -- particularly in the wake of the 2006 war, which many Lebanese felt was brought on by Hezbollah and that left much of south Lebanon in ruin.
Beyond its predictive value, these findings provide insight into Hezbollah's behavior and priorities. The SOMA results highlight how Hezbollah needs to maintain its position within Lebanon's political system, even if that restricts its ability to wage war on Israel. Though the conflict with Israel is the organization's raison d'être, Hezbollah's leadership has taken steps -- such as participating in the Lebanese parliament -- to prevent the party from being politically isolated.
However, this balancing act is becoming more difficult to maintain, as these two aspects of Hezbollah are coming into increasing conflict. The 2006 war inflicted massive costs on the Lebanese people, which has made them less likely to tolerate Hezbollah's foreign adventurism. Earlier in October an explosion at a private home revealed the presence of a Hezbollah arms cache (Hezbollah disputes this). This incident reminded the Lebanese that Hezbollah remains capable of launching another round of fighting with Israel, and raised the specter of the conflict being sparked by accident. The recent Israeli seizure of a cargo ship carrying nearly 400 tons of weapons apparently intended for Hezbollah raised further concerns that Lebanon could again become a battlefield between foreign powers. If one appreciates that Lebanese popular opinion exerts a strong influence on Hezbollah's actions, it should be clearer that another Israel-Hezbollah war remains unlikely.
SOMA's analysis of Hezbollah's behavior serves both analysts and policymakers by making a specific prediction about the group's likely actions, and also by highlighting this important underlying dynamic. As the data collected expands in breadth and depth, it may become possible to make specific predictions about how, when, and under what circumstances regional changes will occur. While the Oct. 27 rocket strike on northern Israel seems to be just the sort of incident which could cause an unpredictable chain reaction in the region, in the future its repercussions may largely be known before the rocket leaves the ground.