Games Hezbollah and Iran play

September 17, 2017
Impasse. Young men stand on the wire of a suspen­sion bridge, holding Palestinian (R) and Hezbollah flags at Iran park in the southern Lebanese-Israeli border village of Maroun el-Rass. (AP)

Earlier this month Israeli warplanes bombarded a new a Syrian research facility in Hama alleged to be controlled by Hezbol­lah. The Syrian regime acknowledged the raid and re­ported the death of two Syrian sol­diers from the attack. The official statement by the Syrian authorities mentioned that the launching of the missiles took place from Leba­nese airspace.
News agencies reported that the target was only 70 km from Hmeimim air base, the headquar­ters of the largest Russian airbase in Syria. The statement by the Syrian regime did not include any retaliatory threats against Israel while Hezbollah and Iran observed a deafening silence. It is not clear at this point whether Israel would engage in air strikes on targets on Syrian territory without prior coordination with Russia. Syrian airspace is under Russian control and the Russians have dozens of launching vehicles for S400 missiles in Syria, none of which blinked an eye at the dozens of Israeli attacks on Syrian lands.
Since the end of the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli media have been talking about the country preparing for a new war against the same oppo­nent. But while a war of words raged on between both sides, the Lebanese-Israeli border wit­nessed the longest stretch of peace since the creation of the Zionist entity.
The rattling of sabres has gone on for the past ten years. Israel would engage in military manoeu­vres and Hezbollah would warn that thousands of missiles were already targeting Israel. In reality, though, it must be the case that both parties’ interests on the field have been secured. Otherwise, we would not be able to explain the decision by Hezbollah to move 10,000 of its fighters to battle fronts in Syria without fearing an attack by Israel on its positions in Lebanon.
Israel must have been asked to keep the status quo on its north­ern borders while Hezbollah has shown great diligence in not breaking the peace with Israel. Except for a couple of incidents between 2007 and 2011, quickly condemned by Hezbollah, all has been quiet on the northern front.
Several questions are begging for answers. Why, for example, should Israel care about hitting some Syrian facilities and some Syrian arms convoys on their way to Lebanon? Why focus on the convoys going to Lebanon and ignore the convoys of hundreds of Hezbollah fighters and their weapons crossing almost daily for the past five years into Syria?
While crossing into Syria, Hezbollah forces did not seem at all fearful of any air strikes. It was as if Hezbollah had assurances that Israel will not touch its camps all over Syria. But when it comes to moving weapons into Lebanon or to zones close to occupied Golan, Israeli paranoia is triggered. Israel was founded on fear and any change in its surroundings throws it into fits of paranoia.
In the Arab world, playing the Israeli card is no longer profitable. Over the years, it has become clear that anti-Israeli discourse by the Iranian axis was no more than a tool to make inroads inside the Arab world. The Iranian axis has its eyes set on other targets and none of its weapons, fighters and finances were meant to be used against Israel.
Thanks to Iranian efforts in the Arab region, Israel has become a non-essential issue. Iran is busy defending the interests of the Shia and other minorities in the region and is far from starting a fight with Israel. Even its current coalition with Russia is built on not disturbing Israel’s security.
When Iranian leaders, and even some Shia Arabs, boast of their victories in the region, Israel comforts itself by further reduc­ing the chances of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. Of course, Iran and Hezbollah continue to loudly claim that their main objective in the region is the elimination of the Zionist entity but they strangely refrain from any military action against Israel when the latter does in fact from time to time strike at Hezbollah targets in the region. It’s as if Iran is dumbfounded by Israel’s actions and can’t under­stand why Israel is poking its nose where it doesn’t belong.
The Syrian regime and Iran know very well that in case of an Israeli attack on Hezbollah or any other Iranian agent in the region, the Arab countries will not take it as an attack on Palestine or the start of another Arab-Israeli war. Thus, Iran and Hezbollah will continue to avoid starting a war with Israel and Israel will con­tinue to appreciate Hezbollah’s effort to keep the peace along its borders.
Israel is perfectly aware that the national security priorities of the Iranian regime do not include a confrontation with Israel and that the real threat to its exist­ence lies within parts of the Arab world, whatever the regime happens to be.