The Israeli armed forces began on Tuesday a massive fortnight-long military exercise, billed as the biggest in the past 19 years, simulating a war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The Jerusalem Post reported that “thousands of soldiers and reservists from all different branches of the IDF (cyber, intelligence, ground forces, the air force and the navy) are going to coordinate their operations as during wartime.”
Hezbollah has reacted with disdain, a top official taunting Israel, “we are ready for any attack or Israeli stupidity.” He added, “The Israelis won’t succeed in surprising us because Israel knows full well [what] Hezbollah’s capabilities are after the loss it suffered in 2006 [in the Second Lebanon War], which deterred the IDF.”
All in all, therefore, the victory in the Syrian war greatly boosts Iran’s regional standing and gives it and access to the East Mediterranean coast
Israel’s advantage will be that Hezbollah is embroiled in other conflicts, in particular, the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah’s capability, on the other hand, has vastly increased since 2006 and there is some merit to its claim of being “the second largest military in the Middle East,” apart from having at least 100000 rockets aimed at Israeli targets. Logically speaking, a war is improbable but then, nothing is beyond the realms of possibility in the Middle East region.
Read more: Israel and the gimmickry of geopolitics
Israel will be sorely tempted to test the Hezbollah’s increased capabilities now rather than later because a point of no return may be reaching soon and will have a hard time holding itself back. The fact of the matter is that Israel is coming face to face with a new security paradigm that would have seemed incredible even six months ago. The specter that haunts Israel today is that for the first time since the 1967 war, the balance of forces is shifting adversely.
Israel is viewed as a key patron of the Kurdish separatist movement in Iraq, while Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran have congruent interest in preventing, no matter what it takes, the emergence of an independent Kurdistan on the regional map
Sharmine Narwani, a seasoned Beirut-based analyst of Middle East politics (and a personal friend of mine) has written an insightful piece in the American Conservative connecting the dots and explaining how a once-favorable balance of power has suddenly shifted in a direction that clips Israel’s wings.” She analyses that for a start, Israel is failing spectacularly in its attempt to dictate the limits to Iran’s presence in post-conflict Syria.
Israel knocked on the doors of the Trump White House to get the US troops to take on the responsibility of the so-called de-escalation zone in southern Syria bordering Golan Heights. But the Pentagon cold-shouldered the idea. Thereafter, three weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Sochi to meet President Vladimir Putin to convey a veiled threat that Israel may choose to intervene if Russia did not rein in Iran’s influence in Syria. Putin, it seems, was also unimpressed.
Paradoxically, the recent spat within the Gulf Cooperation Council has erased the sectarian divide in the regional politics, which of course has a multiplier effect on Iran’s regional influence
In fact, the magnificent victory this week by the Syrian government forces in breaking the ISIS’ 840-day siege of the eastern Syrian city Dier Ezzor in the Euphrates Valley was possible only with the participation side-by-side by the Russian Special Forces, Iranian militia, and the Hezbollah. Moscow may have sent a strong signal to Netanyahu when the RT, which is closely identified with the Kremlin, featured an unprecedented interview with the Hezbollah leader Sheikh Naim Kassem on Tuesday where he thoroughly denounced Israel’s “main part in Syria’s destruction” having been “an important supporter of the armed opposition, especially in the southern part of Syria.”
But there are other dimensions to the emergent security scenario as well that is worrying Israel. One, Hezbollah has successfully cleaned up the border regions separating Lebanon and Syria, where there was a big presence of the extremist Syrian opposition groups, including ISIS (some of which had enjoyed covert Israeli backing.) That has “freed up Hezbollah forces for deployment on other fronts – including its southern border with Israel.”
The Saudi establishment media organ Al-Arabiya carried a report on Monday to the effect that Jordan is edging toward re-opening the relations with Syria and that Damascus is reciprocating the sentiment
It is a matter of time now before Hezbollah goes for the jugular veins of the extremist groups, especially the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, which are ensconced in the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (with Israeli support.) If and when that happens, Hezbollah (and Iran) would be Israel’s next-door neighbor in the Golan Heights.
Additionally, Jordan, which used to be Israel’s main staging post for operations in Syria, is showing signs of “defecting” to the Russian side. This is not surprising because Jordan sees the writing on the wall, especially after the Gulf Arab states began distancing themselves from the Syrian cauldron in the most recent months. Russia has been quietly cultivating Jordan.
The Saudi establishment media organ Al-Arabiya carried a report on Monday to the effect that Jordan is edging toward re-opening the relations with Syria and that Damascus is reciprocating the sentiment. It quoted a Syrian official as saying, “Hearts in Syria and Jordan still beat for each other and this reflects the Arab people’s longing for the project of reawakening and liberation.”
Read more: Israel tackles Trump’s Syrian blues
Meanwhile, there are signs that Turkey may mediate a normalization between Jordan and Iran, too.
One, Hezbollah has successfully cleaned up the border regions separating Lebanon and Syria, where there was a big presence of the extremist Syrian opposition groups, including ISIS
What Israel is unlikely to overlook is that Hamas is also re-establishing links with Tehran. The new Hamas leader Yehiyeh Sinwar was quoted as saying on Monday that Iran is now “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ armed wing. (Fox News)
So, we get here an interesting regional lineup of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Jordan, Iraq and Iran which have a shared antipathy toward Israel for one reason or the other. Paradoxically, the recent spat within the Gulf Cooperation Council has erased the sectarian divide in the regional politics, which of course has a multiplier effect on Iran’s regional influence.
Equally, Israel is viewed as a key patron of the Kurdish separatist movement in Iraq, while Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran have congruent interest in preventing, no matter what it takes, the emergence of an independent Kurdistan on the regional map. All in all, therefore, the victory in the Syrian war greatly boosts Iran’s regional standing and gives it and access to the East Mediterranean coast.
Read Sharmine Narwani’s article Israel’s Geopolitical Gut Check, here.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.