Are the Israelis Trying to Provoke Hezbollah into War?
by Will Porter
When I commented on the thinly-veiled Israeli threats against Lebanese civilians a couple of weeks ago, I, perhaps foolishly, thought it was a one-off incident that we’d never hear much of again. However, knowing the New York Times, I should have considered the likelihood that they were setting out to cook up a narrative.
Up until this point, Israel has been losing out on the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal front. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s frothing racist PM, found the opposite of a silver lining in his recent campaign victory when an offended Barack Obama chided him for his panicked comments about Arabs coming to vote “in droves.”
That was merely the tail end of a series of disappointments for Netanyahu, however, as his March speech to the U.S. congress generally fell flat, Obama remarking that he said “nothing new,” and offered no viable alternative to what Netanyahu repeatedly insisted was a “bad deal.” This is coupled with pathetic efforts from American hawks (such as this letter) to scuttle the deal, which have also met failure.
It isn’t yet certain what the outcome of the Iran talks will be, set to conclude in late-June, but what’s clear is that Likudniks do not want any semblance of American-Iranian normalization. Having greatly profited from the cold war status quo, Israel is anxious at the prospect of its biggest ally and its biggest enemy coming to terms at the negotiation table, especially over the sensitive and controversial nuclear issue.
So, what is Israel to do? In a recent Huffington Post column, National Iranian American Council president, Trita Parsi, and CIA vet Paul Pillar may have the answer: war. Not just any old war, though, a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As well as potentially jeopardizing the nuclear talks (Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy), this also drags in the Syrian issue from the other side. Hezbollah currently fights alongside the Syrian military against the likes of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, whom Israel now apparently supports. A separate Israeli war with Hezbollah may be the nudge needed to push the vacillating U.S. policy on Syria into clarity.
The Americans would most likely support Israel in such a conflict, after which it would become difficult for the U.S. to back the side that Hezbollah is fighting on in Syria, making the U.S. policy definitively anti-Assad.
Assad is a key Iranian ally in the region, however, so it’s not apparent how Iran would respond, nor how this would impact the impending nuclear agreement. It would force Iran into a tough position, possibly having to choose between support for its proxy in the prospective war with Israel, or leaving them to hang without help for the sake of retaining the progress made in the nuclear talks.
Hostile rhetoric, although common, has begun to fly, with a senior Israeli military official telling the New York Times “[w]e will hit Hezbollah hard. . .,” and a top Iranian military aide responding “[i]f Zionists wish to do anything wrong, we will raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground.”
On May 15, Israeli diplomat, Dore Gold, said on Facebook (regarding his complaint that the U.N. isn’t doing anything about Hezbollah’s rocket stockpiles in Lebanon):
The UN is thus leaving Israel with a horrible choice if war breaks out again: Either the IDF will have to destroy the weapons now being stored in southern Lebanon, or let Hezbollah fire thousands of rockets into Israel. What would you do?
To top it off, Israel has been massing troops and artillery on its border with Lebanon in a series of military drills. My cynical soul immediately saw this as an attempt to deliberately create confusion in an increasingly-tense situation, potentially sparking a conflict based on misunderstanding. However, Israel did inform Hezbollah and Iran of the drills, after the two parties were apparently alarmed at what they thought could be an attack, so I give them that.
One hopes this prediction is mistaken, of course. Nobody wants to see another war break out, and the Iran nuclear deal could be the greatest—if not the only—accomplishment of Obama’s two-term presidency. Nonetheless, keep your eyes peeled on Lebanon.