Recent weeks have seen the hostility between Iran and Israel develop from a secretive conflict to come out into the open. The ongoing Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria combined with Israeli propaganda targeting Iran have increased with Israel…
The current US administration has clearly adopted an anti-Iranian strategy that is not limited to rhetoric but also includes putting pressure on its allies to assist in isolating Iran.
Prince Tamim of Qatar gave a speech last week thanking the countries that opened air space for Qatari planes, without mentioning Iran. We also saw the recent Kuwaiti diplomatic crisis with Iran, which resulted in the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and 14 other diplomats for alleged links to a spy and terror cell. The US President has also asked Sultan Qaboos of Oman to help contain Iran’s influence in the region, and observers are carefully witnessing the Saudi attempts to open a dialogue with Iraq as a further attempt to contain Iranian influence.
This coordinated effort is not limited to Iran, but also to its key allies. Recently we saw the US anti-Hezbollah rhetoric reappear as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urging the U.N. Security Council to acknowledge that Hezbollah “is a destructive terrorist force” and “a major obstacle to peace” that is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” This rhetoric harks back to the 2005-2008 policies that targeted the Lebanese party and preceded the July 2006 war against Hezbollah.
This new approach was also seen during the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri’s last visit to Washington and his meeting with President Trump. The likely goal is to isolate Hezbollah and put more pressure on them as new agreements and understandings are being negotiated in Syria.
According to the US National Security Report, Hezbollah has not been listed as a direct threat to the US for the last three years due to its role in fighting terrorist groups. That assessment has clearly shifted as Hezbollah is being leveraged as part of the plan to isolate Iran. We are also likely to see greater US efforts to enforce decisions on Hezbollah and more calls on the militant group to disarm.
These changes in the US’ approach comes at a time where the activity in Syria is reducing, so Hezbollah is increasingly turning its attention back to Lebanon. Over recent years there have been reports that Hezbollah’s weaponization has peaked, including technologically. They have definitely suffered a significant level of casualties both in manpower and financially.
Hezbollah has also seen a shift in the level of support from their key supporter base, including areas that were generally regarded as social incubators for their movement. Yet they have been improving tactically and the soldiers and members they do have are battle hardened and have much more experience than previously from their extensive activities in Syria.
Even though Hezbollah may be facing serious political, social and financial challenges, it is still a serious and well-organized opponent to both the US and Israel. Hezbollah’s main strategy will continue to be based on raising the cost of war on Israel and trying to shift the battle lines south towards the upper Galilee.
It appears we are seeing the anticipatory phase before an inevitable confrontation, as Israel is not willing to accept the increasing threats that Hezbollah represents. Seizing the US strategy of isolating Iran, a fragile Syria and the consensus that many Arab states share on the issue of weakening Hezbollah. All of this suggests that the coming months might bring some attention’s shift from Syria to its neighboring countries.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh
Once again in the last weeks we have seen reports of Israeli jet fighters attacking a Hezbollah convoy west of Damascus. These ongoing attacks of Hezbollah fighters, leaders and convoys are part of an escalation between Israel and Hezbollah that could soon lead to open confrontation. There are three factors that encourage Israel to seriously consider such a move.
The first is related to the presence of Hezbollah in Syria, and its proximity to the Golan Heights. According to many experts Hezbollah’s financial and human resources were seriously drained and it’s popularity on the decline within Lebanon and abroad. This could be an opportunity for Israel to attack Hezbollah directly after the war in Syria.
The second factor that would be of concern to Israel is the experience that Hezbollah’s fighters have gained in Syria. Cooperation with various militias and the development of new fighting techniques and tactics from having a wide network inside Syria and across the region could see Hezbollah implement them against Israel as their attention turns back to their traditional foe.
The third factor relates to the use of new technology and techniques in spying that Hezbollah has been using. There have been multiple incidents of drones crossing into Israeli air space and evading Israeli defenses taking pictures and collecting intelligence on Israeli troops and installations. This is a new threat to Israel and would be of great concern.
With these indicators suggesting an increasing probability of a confrontation, it begs the question as to what Hezbollah has prepared. We know that Hezbollah has new technology and techniques, but perhaps they are also thinking that offense is the best form of defense. Further, they may consider that surprise would be to their advantage, which means we could see a confrontation on Israeli soil.
Hezbollah would also be preparing itself for a solution to the crisis in Syria where they are no longer able to use it as a logistic, political and financial base, as they have in the past. The same would also apply to Iran, which is working to keep deals with the international community.
The result of this is that Hezbollah will not have the same level of backing as it has in the past. We are seeing a longer term change of Hezbollah’s political strategy as they have managed to facilitate the deal that saw their ally General Michael Aoun become the president of Lebanon, which may also see them address their illegal status of being a state within a state.
Despite all of these indicators, the key factor of whether we see a confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel or a regional settlement is likely to be determined by the new protagonist in the region, in Russia.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh