This is the most sobering and chilling analysis of the Rubik’s Cube that is the Middle East I’ve read in a long time. When Syria and Iraq are sorted, there’s the Iranian influence via their proxy Hezbollah on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. The stuff that’s gone before will be a sideshow.
Benjamin Netanyahu put it best when he said:
“..If the Arabs laid down their weapons today, there would be no more war. If Israel laid down her weapons today, there would be no more Israel..”
Never a truer word spoken.
“…The recent American attack on a Syrian air base reminds us that the interests of the world still come together in the Middle East and once again it is a centre of great power rivalry. Because of that, the world should be frantically intent on preventing new or wider conflicts there.
Generally missed by much of the media, the state that has the widest set of options to respond to the new role that the US has taken upon itself in the Middle East is Iran. Iran has military advisers in Syria as well as a large force of its proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran’s strategic aim is to extend Shia influence over a swath of the Middle East from the Gulf to the Mediterranean, something now looking very achievable. Hezbollah has a long history in the Syrian civil war and could be in the best position to respond to the US actions by attacking “the Little Satan”, Israel.
Things are now quiet in Lebanon, particularly on its southern border with Israel. In many ways Lebanon is doing well with a per capita income equivalent to some Gulf Arab countries, despite the refugees it is supporting and conflict among its neighbours. It has generally recovered from its 2006 war with Israel.
But no Australian should be any more fooled by peace in Lebanon than by the imposed stability in the South China Sea, or the frozen conflict in Ukraine. It can be argued that the Lebanese government does not exist as a sovereign body within Lebanon. It exists merely because the Iranian proxy terrorist organisation, Hezbollah, allows it to exist. Hezbollah controls Lebanese leadership and Lebanese policies. It requires compliance by the government with Hezbollah’s policies and it demands and receives direct and indirect support from Lebanese institutions and infrastructure.
The security situation on the southern border with Israel is not quiet because the Lebanese government and the Lebanese Armed Forces ensure that the United Nations Security Council resolutions are being observed. It is quiet because Hezbollah wants it that way at present. Hezbollah is busy in Syria in its Iranian proxy role, and is not yet perfectly ready for another fight with Israel. The Lebanese Armed Forces are seen co-operating with Hezbollah on the southern border in contravention to UNSCR 1701 because Lebanon’s Prime Minister has publicly stated that Hezbollah is a co-defender of Lebanon along with the armed forces.
Everything that is concerning about the Middle East could now manifest itself on the southern Lebanese border, and it could happen much faster than anticipated. Iran, which finances Hezbollah to at least 80 per cent of its annual $US1 billion budget, is achieving its grand geo-strategic aims by influence, aid and proxies in the failed states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Its most reliable proxy is Hezbollah, which has had thousands fight in Syria, with 1600 killed and many more badly wounded. The skills and experience gained by Hezbollah in Syria will be brought back to Lebanon for use where Iran next wants trouble to occur, and that will probably be on the Lebanon-Israeli border. US actions in Syria may cause this to happen sooner.
In 2014, Hamas in Gaza possessed roughly 10,000 rockets for use against Israel and fired about 6000. These were generally rudimentary weapons but still they were able to force Israel to mobilise 40,000 troops to fight for 53 days, costing 71 Israeli lives and about 2000 lives in Gaza.
By contrast, today Hezbollah has at least 100,000 rockets, many embedded in fortified “rocket villages” lining the border, often with one house in three in border villages having a military presence. Most of these rockets have been supplied by Iran and are modern and sophisticated with a range and accuracy that Hamas could only dream of. As well, Hezbollah has the ability to mount land and sea raids across the border and to shut down the Israeli export industry by attacking shipping transiting to Israeli ports, as it did in 2006. If such a conflict was engineered by Iran through Hezbollah then Hamas from Gaza is highly likely to join in because it, too, is funded by Iran. Whatever weaponry exists in Syria would probably attempt to move to Lebanon in gratitude for Hezbollah’s efforts in the civil war. It is estimated that Hezbollah has the capability to launch 260 rockets accurately and with long range at Israel every six hours, up to 1200 rockets a day.
Of course Israel will not stand for this. It is poised and ready, as I saw in a recent Israeli-sponsored trip to its northern border. If Hezbollah starts something, then Israel is likely to see the Lebanese government, people and supporting infrastructure as one with Hezbollah, and all as legal targets for the best air force in the world.
So as we watch summits occurring across the world to solve decades-old conflicts, let’s not forget that the world can and should try to prevent wars that have not yet gone hot.
My judgment is that Israel will not initiate a war on its northern border, but if it detects final preparations for that war, it may act pre-emptively to stop more than 1000 rockets a day hitting its people.
If Israel replies to Hezbollah provocation, it will take a decade for Lebanon to recover.
For the sake of another very small aspect of peace in the Middle East, and particularly for the sake of the Lebanese people, the world should act to split the Lebanese government from Hezbollah, even if it takes sanctions against the Lebanese government to do it.
Jim Molan is a retired army officer who served as chief of operations in Iraq, was the co-author of Australia’s border control policies and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders