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Stakes are high in Mideast crisis

NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports on what is at stake in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, and who the players are.

Who is Hezbollah, and what is its endgame? Experts say it's to prove it can damage Israel in ways Arab countries couldn’t.

Since Syria was forced out of Lebanon a year and a half ago, experts say Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has become Lebanon's best known and most controversial politician.

A Shiite populist, Nasrallah provides social services where Lebanon's weak new government can’t, controls Cabinet ministries and operates militias.

“It has developed a terrorist cadre, an international terrorist infrastructure and a powerful militia with weapons and capabilities provided by Iran and Syria,” says Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador and Mideast expert.

What does Iran get out of this fight? It gets a proxy war that damages Israel and tells the world, “Don’t get too aggressive in the nuclear showdown with Iran.”

“I think that's very clearly one of the messages we're getting here,” says terror expert Daniel Benjamin. “Don't mess with us, you'll pay a big price.”

Syria also has an endgame — to reassert control of Lebanon’s fledgling democracy through Hezbollah.

But what does Israel get out of this conflict?

“They need to show that this cannot stand,” Benjamin says. “Israel simply can't leave its citizens undefended in the face of all these missiles.”

But why has the United States given Israel a green light? Experts say, since the administration won’t deal with Iran or Syria, having Israel fight Hezbollah is the only way to control the terror group, and indirectly, also strike a blow at its chief sponsor, Iran.

The risk? Instead of helping Lebanon's government to crack down on Hezbollah, Israel's barrage could cause the government to collapse.