Middle East war clouds - Macleans.ca

Middle East war clouds

The next deadly clash between Israel and Hezbollah is brewing


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Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak presented senior Israeli Defence Forces officers with stark options for Israel’s future security at a meeting earlier this year. “In the absence of an arrangement with Syria, we are liable to enter a belligerent clash with it that could reach the point of an all-out, regional war,” he told them.

That such an “arrangement”—or peace deal—might be crafted in the near future was, until recently, a realistic hope. The two sides came close to a settlement in the 1990s and resumed secret negotiations through Turkish mediators in 2007. The framework for any deal is “straightforward,” says Dan Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Syria wants to reclaim the Golan Heights, which it lost during the 1967 war with Israel; Israel wants to isolate Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon from their sponsors in Damascus. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton once said the details could be sorted out in 35 minutes.

But Syria broke off negotiations because of Israel’s 2008-2009 war in Gaza, and since then tensions between Israel and Syria, and between Israel and Syria’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, have steadily increased. In February, speaking via video link, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told thousands of supporters in Beirut that the militia would target all of Israel in any future conflict. “If you bomb Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, we will bomb Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv,” he said. “If you bomb our docks, we will bomb your docks. If you bomb our oil refineries, we will bomb your oil refineries. If you bomb our factories, we will bomb factories. And if you bomb our power plants, we will bomb your power plants.”

Nasrallah also promised to extract revenge from Israel for the 2008 assassination of senior Hezbollah member Imad Mughniyah, which he blamed on the Jewish state. “Our options are open and we have all the time in the world,” he said.

Nasrallah’s threats mirror increased bellicosity from Hezbollah’s patrons in Syria. Last year in Beirut, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who had previously taken part in peace negotiations with Israel, pledged his willingness to be “a soldier at the disposal of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.” At an Arab League summit in Libya this March, Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take up arms against Israel, saying, “The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.”

Syria has backed up its rhetoric with action. Damascus, along with Iran, another Hezbollah sponsor, rearmed the militant Islamic group after its inconclusive 2006 war with Israel. This April, Israel claimed Syria shipped Hezbollah Scud ballistic missiles, which have a range of more than 600 km and could therefore threaten all of Israel. In 2006, by contrast, Hezbollah’s attacks were limited to the north of the country.

The reported shipment, which Syria denies, has fuelled speculation that another war between Israel and the Lebanese militia is brewing. Speaking at a private meeting of the U.S. Congressional Friends of Jordan in Washington this April, King Abdullah of Jordan described fears in his country that such a conflict was “imminent.”

The last time Israel and Hezbollah clashed, more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed, along with between 200 and 600 Hezbollah militants, 121 Israeli soldiers, and more than 40 Israeli civilians. The next conflict will almost certainly be deadlier. One reason is the arms that will be employed. “Syria has really upped the ante by sending Hezbollah an increasingly potent set of weaponry,” says David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Center for Near East Policy.

Scuds, despite the publicity they attract, are not the most effective weapons in Hezbollah’s arsenal. While they carry a large warhead and the psychological effects of a missile landing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem would be considerable, they are also cumbersome, slow to load, and difficult to hide. “Once they are installed, they are sitting ducks,” says Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel. But Hezbollah has reportedly also obtained Syrian versions of the Iranian Fateh-110 missile system, which is much more accurate and easier to deploy. With a range of more than 200 km, these missiles could reach central Israel and fulfill Nasrallah’s pledge to bomb Ben Gurion International Airport.

There may be other weapons Hezbollah has but of which Israel is not yet aware. During the 2006 war, Israeli tank crews suffered numerous casualties from sophisticated shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons, including, unexpectedly, state-of-the-art Kornet missiles, which are made in Russia and reached Hezbollah via Syria.

Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Center, predicts that Israel’s next confrontation with Hezbollah will be more extensive than the last. “From all my conversations, and from my knowledge from senior Israeli sources, they are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s strength and feel that next time they want to do the job right,” he said, explaining that many Israeli politicians and military commanders believe the country did not achieve its objective of weakening Hezbollah the last time it fought the Islamist militia.

It’s also possible that a war between Israel and Hezbollah will expand to include all of Lebanon. “Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview with Maclean’s. “If Hezbollah is going to attack Israel, that’s an attack from Lebanon, and that has consequences on the type of response that Israel would be considering. In the past, Israel distinguished between Hezbollah as a terrorist military machine and the country of Lebanon. It’s very difficult to make that decision today.”

Such a war might even involve Syria. At least one Israeli politician, minister-without-portfolio Yossi Peled, said that in the event of another conflict on Israel’s northern border, which he described in January as a “matter of time,” Israel would hold “Syria and Lebanon alike responsible.”

Hezbollah’s most powerful sponsor, however, is Iran—whose weapons, money, and training give it significant influence over the Lebanese militia. And despite recent growling by all the potential belligerents, both Israel and Iran have good reasons to avoid triggering a war on Israel’s northern border just now.

Even with long-range missiles, Hezbollah is not an existential threat to Israel. But many Israelis believe a nuclear-armed Iran is such a threat, and that the country’s window to deal with it is closing. A war with Hezbollah would absorb Israel’s military resources and constrict its ability to launch strikes against Iran.

From the Iranian perspective, among its most effective deterrents against an Israeli air attack is an intact and well-armed Hezbollah that is ready and able to retaliate on Iran’s behalf. A war with Israel now would waste that deterrent.

But the fact that there are good reasons why a war shouldn’t take place doesn’t mean it won’t. Ehud Barak’s warning that conflict might flow from the absence of a formal peace was not an empty one. Hezbollah is rearming. Israel will not indefinitely tolerate its growing strength. And Syria—despite U.S. efforts to engage it—shows little sign of turning its back on either Iran or its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. This could be a violent summer.

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Middle East war clouds

  1. If Hezbollah is smart (granted, a highly implausible "if"), they'll bide their time until Iran has nukes. At that point Israel's hands will be tied (and that's the optimistic scenario in which Iran doesn't start making immediate use of said nukes against Israel).

    In this case, and with this US Administration, time is on Hezbollah's side.

  2. Another war to cause more human suffering with little or nothing to gain for either side.O Well,i guess i'll just watch it on TV

    • If a war does break out, I'd count myself very lucky that the TV is the closest I'd be to it.

  3. we need to pray for peace in middle east……………..

  4. If we had a president with both the foresight to see what, inevitably, will have to be done AND the actual guts to do it, the US would invade Iran and topple its theocratic regime while Israel invades Lebanon to clean out Hezbollah. A clash between the west on one side and radical shia islam on the other is inevitable. We should just go ahead get it over with BEFORE the Iranians acquire nuclear weapons! No doubt there will be legions of libtards out there who will read this post and scream "Warmonger!!!". No, I'm simply seeing the world as it is and being honest about what must be done. Going to war with Iran and Hezbollah now will, on balance, save many more lives in the future than it costs now.

  5. There is nothing easy about developing biological weapons that just hit one ethnic group and leave the others unscathed. It would probably take decades of research with tens of thousands of workers to make a decent weapon that is only minimally selective. But there is no need to do this. Deadly viruses can be delivered by missile or suicide vector, and spread limited by control of human movement. Iran is an isolated country. If they release the viruses in Israel, the disease will spread quickly in such a tiny, crowded state, and will probably burn itself out before spreading back to Iran. Once Israel has been wiped out, most people around the world will scared enough to stay home until all the infected die, and that will be the end of it.

  6. Read Matthew 23 and 24, we are living in the last days before Jesus returns

    • Wow, is MacClean's the kooks' korner? Neo-nazis, jesus freaks, jihadists

  7. Israel is a harden stone and and whoever tries to lift it hurts himself, We have the past wars and the end results. The creator is always with them and there is no way anybody is going to win against them. If Yah is with them who can beat them.
    John Kabanya

  8. The Arabs aren't smart enough to develop something like that. Keep dreaming. However, if the Jews wanted to eliminate the Arabs …

    • The cheap bravado of a dumb bigot. Not worth much in the real world. Only contemptible, not respectable.

      • Who's the bigot? The guy claiming Jews are so racially unique that bio weapons can kill them without harming others, or the guy saying Arabs aren't smart enough to develop these hypothetical weapons? Or the dude stating that Iranians don't need to be so smart, just hit dem Joos with good old fashioned non-selective infectious agents and finish what Hitler started?
        What a bunch of kooks.

  9. I don't understand why Israel couldn't fight both Iran and Hezbollah simultaneously.

    Meaningful action against Hezbollah would necessitate an invasion of Southern Lebanon, which would depend heavily on ground troops, as well as air power supporting those troops.

    Any action against Iran's nuclear architecture would rely on long range bombing. Obviously it would be better to do one thing at a time, by why would one cancel the other out?

    The real question is what is the best way for Israel to handle both these problems? Which path bests advances the broad Israeli national interest?

    One last thing. What is the proof Syria has shipped rockets to Hezbollah? The article relies on a bunch of quotes from Hawkish Israel politicians. Pure propaganda.

    I guess articles like the above are trying to prepare Israelis for another invasion of Southern Lebanon – since that is clearly the only way to truly defeat Hezbollah. To do that you've got to make the threat Hezbollah poses as direct as possible to justify what will be dangerous and quite risky.

  10. I was too harsh in my post. The article was good and explained the different thinking and events. It wasn't propoganda.

    Though, there does seem to be a media campaing out there preparing people for another war.

  11. If Yahweh is with the Jews where was he between 1933-1945?

  12. Dude, you're weird. Where did you read such crap? Jews have horns too?

  13. this is aimed at home412ad, I know canada lately has become the home of the jhadi/goat/little boy lovers but come on down south to the states & i'll gladly show you that not all jews run from aholes like you, in fact some us even know how to protect oursleves. So butthead come on down

  14. to John Kabanya..the ancient Jews thought they were invincible in 70AD too. Judea was stomped out of existence by Rome, the Temple destroyed and the people either crucified or dragged off into slavery.
    Their God let it happen then. , for 2000 years. Israel is dependent on America today for its existence. If that support should disappear Israel would be doomed more surely than anything. Its nukes are of no use against an enraged World cutting off economic support…something that is very likely to happen. Israel is in more danger than it realizes…economic danger. Israel does not have enough energy resources, something Iran has in abundance. Its population is too small to compete against the overwhelming tide arrayed against it. All Muslims despise it and most third World countries and even some European countries could care less about it. If Israel disappeard tomorrow it would hardly make a blip on the World economy. Iran with its larger population, strategic location, enormous energy resources is vastly more important to the World than little ol Israel.

  15. Nuke the whole damn Middle East and save the world millions! They are all blowing themselves up anyway!

  16. Those who BLESS ISRAEL SHALL BE BLESSED !!! What other nation has stood the test of time like the Jews !! Sure The Lord has punished them in the past…But that shows that He Loves Them !! They are His Chosen People !! I am not a jew but I know America came into existance By the support of the Jews !! If We want The Blessings Of The Lord We all need to support Israel !! This nation is too fradgile to give up on GOD !!!!!!!!! GOD BLESS THE USA FOR BLESSING ISRAEL !!!!

  17. arabs will never be smart that's for there genes they don't have technology and they will never have it they think who to eat and fill up there billy and learn to hate and kill others