Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
This short document is being written in light of a seemingly – for now – contained, short round of violence between Israel and Hezbollah on September 1, 2019. In Part 1 of this 2-part article, I will briefly explain how and why we have reached this phase. And in Part 2 I will explain what must be done to prevent the very real scenario of an Israeli – Hezbollah war.
Short Background – 40 Years Since the Iranian Revolution
Since launching the Iranian Revolution, and establishing a religious theocracy in Iran in 1979, the Mullah regime has been strategically and methodically working towards exterminating Israel. They have particularly accelerated their agenda over the last decade through establishing and expanding what Jordan’s King Abdullah II called in 2012 – “The Shi’ite Crescent” – a region stretching from Lebanon through Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Arab (Persian) Gulf, and Yemen in which Iran is attempting to increase its control.
Iran’s plan and expansionist vision are based on two key strategies:
- Cultivating and deploying non-Iranian proxies in arenas bordering Israel. For example: Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas and Islamic jihad in the Gaza Strip; Shi’ite militants – including Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi Shi’ite militias operating in Syria. These proxies are sponsored, armed, trained and guided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG).
- Growing their arsenal of artillery, rockets, and missiles aimed at Israeli cities, which are designed to cause chaos, havoc, and destruction. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has 130,000 rockets of varying ranges, as well as an estimated arsenal of dozens of heavy and long-range missiles. In addition, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have around 15,000 rockets. Iran is trying to duplicate that infrastructure in Syria. The entire country of Israel is in range of those missiles and rockets. Depending on the plan of action Iran choses to employ – when the time is right, Iranian agents and proxies – according to the Mullah regime’s orders – will launch a coordinated and combined war against Israel.
Over the last year, Iran has made significant strides towards achieving its goal through:
Establishing and operating (though for now – in a limited capacity) a land corridor from Iran through Iraq through Syria to Lebanon through which Iran streams arms, ammunition, and militants.
Setting up bases in western Iraq from where it can launch missiles at Israel.
Developing and expanding their ballistic missile program (which was not addressed in the JCPOA).
Advancing a program in Lebanon, carried out by Hezbollah under Iran’s guidance, direction, and support, the goal of which is to increase the accuracy of Iranian missiles and rockets Hezbollah possesses in Lebanon.
Israel Addresses the Iranian threat
In light of the growing Iranian threat, Israel has been relentlessly pursuing an ongoing, expanding intelligence and operational effort in order to thwart and disrupt Iran’s plans. This is why in recent years Israel has attacked weapons shipments intended for Hezbollah’s missile depots, as well as Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) headquarters and bases in Syria.
Over the past few weeks, there have been explosions at pro-Iranian Iraqi militia bases in Iraq. These blasts were attributed to Israeli attacks reportedly aimed at Iranian missile warehouses in Iraq. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the blasts.
August 24, 2019
On August 24, 2019, the Israeli Air Force conducted a preemptive strike in which it intercepted the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s (IRG’s) attempt to launch a drone attack on Israel from within Syria. Two Hezbollah militants were killed in the operation.
The same evening, Hezbollah’s Central Headquarters in Southern Beirut known as Al-Dahya al-Janoubiyah (“The Southern Quarter”) was attacked by drones. Reportedly a component critical to Hezbollah’s missile accuracy project was destroyed. Hezbollah, the Lebanese President, and the Lebanese Prime Minister blamed Israel for the attack.
Israel claimed responsibility for the attack in Syria yet said nothing about the attack on Beirut.
Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened a military response against Israel in response to both August 24 incidents.
But Nasrallah is faced with a dilemma.
On the one hand, Nasrallah positions himself as the defender of Lebanon. This is the justification he used for the need for Hezbollah to retain their weapons in Lebanon after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and the Lebanese Government demanded Hezbollah disarm. Given the fact that both the Lebanese President and the Lebanese Prime Minister labeled the August 24 attack in Beirut “as an attack on Lebanon,” and openly blamed Israel, Nasrallah must respond. If he doesn’t, he will pull the rug out from under his own feet as the “defender of Lebanon.”
On the other hand, Nasrallah fears that if he responds, Israel – in response, could launch an all-out war. Which is the last thing Hezbollah and its lords in Tehran want at this time for a number of reasons:
Over 2,000 Hezbollah militants have been killed in the war in Syria. In addition, 10,000 Hezbollah militants have been wounded – many of whom are in serious condition.
US sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah have severely damaged Hezbollah’s organizational, economic, civilian, and military infrastructure in Lebanon.
A war with Israel will severely damage Hezbollah. Given its current dire situation and compounding challenges, the blow might prove fatal. In that scenario, if the Iranian regime tries to actively intervene militarily and attack Israel to save Hezbollah – its most valuable proxy, it will be exposed to US and Israeli military strikes.
Lebanon itself is a sinking ship. Lebanon has an external debt of close to USD 90 billion, and the country is drowning in corruption and political violence. Struggling under one of the highest public debts in the world, global financial institutions are becoming increasingly pessimistic with its prospects for an economic turn-around – and its financial and credit ratings are steadily declining. For all intents and purposes, Lebanon is a failed state. And a war with Israel will send the sinking Lebanese boat – and Hezbollah along with it – into the abyss.
September 1, 2019 – Hezbollah Retaliates
On September 1, 2019, Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles into Israeli territory along the Israeli – Lebanese border. No Israeli soldiers or civilians were hurt.
Israel responded by attacking Hezbollah targets and the outskirts of Lebanese communities along the Lebanese – Israeli border. To best of my knowledge, there were no casualties on the Lebanese side.
Following that round, it appears the hostilities have apparently been contained.
Arab World Responds
Not surprisingly, following yesterday’s events, the Arab world-at-large – once again – expresses its resentment towards Hezbollah and its destructive role in the service of Iran.
More than that – the Arab Gulf Monarchies sided with Israel – and acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself.
One should remember that major Arab states – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, formally define Hezbollah as a terror organization.
The Lebanese continue to cry out that Lebanon has been hijacked by Hezbollah. And indeed – it is true.
The reality is that Iran – through Hezbollah – is the one dictating Lebanon’s domestic, national, foreign and security policy. And as long as Hezbollah is not disarmed, that will continue to be the reality.
That being said, Lebanese politicians and the people of Lebanon should not be exempted from responsibility. After all, Lebanon’s President Michele ‘Aoun is a political ally of Hezbollah. And ‘Aoun hand in hand with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Al-Hariri, have turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s missile project.
One should assume that Hezbollah plans to carry out a retaliatory attack for the drone attack on its headquarters in Beirut. Such an attack will likely be different than the September 1 attack. It is very possible that Hezbollah will try to target deep inside Israel, focusing on a symbolic target (government, military, significant civil infrastructure, etc.) In my estimation, it is more likely the attack will not be launched from Lebanon.
Israel wishes to avoid a war. However, in the upper echelons of Israeli politics – as well as the upper ranks of the Israeli military, the overriding opinion is that Hezbollah’s missile precision project presents a strategic threat to Israel. And unless this project is thwarted, Israel will have to eliminate that threat at all costs. Including a total war.
The ramifications of a total Israel – Hezbollah war are dramatic.
Israel will pay a heavy price. Lebanon, a disintegrating state, will cease to exist in its current format. A tremendous humanitarian crisis in Lebanon will be imposed on the world’s doorstep. Hezbollah who sees itself as a regional power will suffer a severe – perhaps, fatal blow. Such a war could lead to a direct military confrontation between the US and Iran.
Final Wake Up Call?
It is likely that yesterday’s short round between Israel and Hezbollah might be the last wake-up call for Western leaders.
It should be clear that the potential for a severe, rapid escalation leading to a total war continues to escalate – even if punctuated by rounds of calm.
In the next segment, I will elaborate on my suggestions to address the flammable situation and defuse the ticking bomb of an Israeli – Hezbollah war.
Links to related articles I have published:
Pax Amer – Iran (March 2015)
Is War in The Middle East Inevitable? (February 2012)
The Iranian Dance of the Veils (November 2011)
Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi Melamed is the President & CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, training current and future leaders to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East. For more of his articles see www.avimelamed.com – Because True Knowledge is a Real Asset.