Translator note: Elijah A Magnier’s essay is an essential backgrounder for understanding the Middle East in our time. It has been translated into German, where I first saw it. I rendered it from Spanish, as below, before learning that the original was in English! My face is red! But I LIKE reading Spanish!
Israel attacks Syria to keep America in the Levant.
20 years after Israel’s unconditional departure from Lebanon, what has been achieved?
Following its defeat in the Second Lebanon War, Israel discovered that the only way to suppress Hezbollah would be to close the supply line between Lebanon and Syria.
This could only be achieved by removing President Bashar al-Assad from power, altering the “Axis of Resistance” stretching from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Gaza. But Israel and the United States, supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Turkey, Europe, and many other countries, have failed to achieve the goal of making Syria a failed state.
President Assad called upon his allies, whose own national security was in jeopardy. If Syria fell, the al-Qaeda jihadists and the “Islamic State” would be fighting on the streets of Beirut, Baghdad and Tehran. The jihadists would be powerful enough to expel Russia from its naval base in Syria, and export the war beyond the Levantine borders. Yet, Israel and the United States failed in the task of destroying Syria and cornering Hezbollah. On the contrary, Hezbollah has become stronger than ever. The Resistance has reaped the fruits of its victory. It has become a commanding power in key Lebanese institutions.
Israel sought to destroy Hezbollah because it was an obstacle to its expansionist plans in Lebanon, specifically to steal water from Lebanon and some of its territories, to force a peace agreement of unconditional surrender, to break the alliance with Iran, and deprive Tehran of its strongest ally in the Middle East. In the past forty years, since the 1979 victory of the Islamic Republic led by Imam Ruhollah Khomeini which overthrew the United States’ delegated ruler, the Shah of Iran, Washington has imposed sanctions, because Iran refused to submit to American power and because Iran supports its allies in the Middle East, mainly Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, all bordering Israel.
In 2006, the United States was involved in Israel’s war plans against Lebanon. At the G8 summit in 2006, President George W. Bush described the relationship between Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria as the root of the causes of “instability”: “The world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and continue working to isolate to Iran ”(Roshandel J. & Lean CN (2011) Iran, Israel and the United States, ABC-CLIO, CA, p. 109).
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, refused to mediate a ceasefire unless “conditions were favorable,” believing that Israel would win the war. Hezbollah was not only left to fend for itself to confront the United States and Israel, but the Lebanese proxies of Americans and Saudis (Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblat) supported the Israel-United States position, alleging that “there was no point in a ceasefire” (Wilkins H. (2013). The Making Of Lebanese Foreign Policy: understanding the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War, Routledge, Introduction).
When Israel failed to achieve its goals, the United States agreed to mediate an end to the war. Negotiations focused on the cessation of all hostilities (not a ceasefire) between the two countries.
Tel Aviv and Washington failed to complete the deployment of the United Nations Forces in Lebanon, UNIFIL, on the borders with Syria. The United States sought to give Israel space in its bid to win through negotiations what it had failed to achieve by using its massive war machine in 33 days of war in 2006.
“Israel’s goal was never realistic,” Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister said. When its attempt to control the Syrian-Lebanese borders failed after the 2006 defeat, Israel was left with one option to counter Hezbollah: to close the road to Damascus and to find a way to control Hezbollah’s supply line. This required a war in Syria.As facing down Hezbollah was no longer an option, Syria became the next target in the campaign to isolate Iran, as President Bush declared.
The motives behind the war in Syria have been misdescribed by many researchers and analysts around the world, who have portrayed the war as the result of an “Arab Spring” against dictatorial regimes. But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other countries in the Persian Gulf have been ruled by dictatorships and members of the same families for decades and are indeed regarded by the West as their close partners – rich in oil.
In reality, the war against Syria began just after the al-Qaeda attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. Four-star general Wesley Clark revealed that Washington’s plan, as he had heard it in the days after September 11 were to: “take out Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and end up with Iran.”
A few months after the US invasion of Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited President Bashar al-Assad and warned him that the United States would invade Syria for refusing to discontinue its support for anti-Israel organizations, such as Hezbollah and Palestinian groups: the Syrian President would share the same fate as the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq was far from a walk. The American occupation generated new resistance among both Sunnis and Shiites. This encouraged President Assad to reject the American threat, unaware of what the future held for Syria. A dozen states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, the Emirates, Europe, and the United States, all supported a regime change operation using takfiri proxies.
The consequences of destabilizing Syria offered al-Qaeda a unique opportunity to flourish in Syria, and an even more deadly group emerged: the “Islamic State,” ISIS.
President Assad summoned his few allies, Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, to fight the huge coalition assembled to create a failed state in Syria. The developing Syrian war provided an unprecedented experience for the Syrian army, giving birth to a new Syrian resistance and offering Hezbollah a knowledge of war, with a base for Iran that Tehran had never dreamed of having in the Levant.
Hezbollah forced an unconditional exit from Israel from Lebanon in 2000 and challenged all US-Israeli plans for a “new Middle East” after the second Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006.
And the long nine years of war in Syria forced her to refine her tactics and weaponry, and provided the organization with an unprecedented victory. Just as Israel had spurred the creation of Hezbollah, it taught the quasi-state actor all sorts of skills and forced it to acquire more training and weaponry to repel wars and dismantle enemy targets.
Former Chief of Staff and Prime Minister nominee Benny Gantz believes Hezbollah has become one of the strongest irregular armies in the Middle East, capable of imposing its rules of engagement and its “deterrent balance” on the classical armies that are most powerful in the region.
“Show me four or five states with greater firepower than Hezbollah: they are the United States, China, Russia, Israel, France and the United Kingdom,” Gantz said speaking at the 2014 Herzliya Conference. That was Israel’s assessment in 2014.
Six years later, last February, Defense Minister Naftali Bennet said that “for each convoy hit, you miss five and slowly Hezbollah accumulates a critical mass of missiles that threaten us.”
Hezbollah has grown stronger than various armies in the Middle East. Hezbollah is no longer an organization that collides with Israelis on a hill, period, or that ambushes patrols behind an alley. Rather, in Syria and Iraq, Hezbollah has successfully experienced different types of war scenarios. It has acquired many advanced weapons and has become a strategic threat to Israel from the latter contemplating waging open warfare against Lebanon and Syria.
Israel had set a goal to overthrow Assad in Syria and separate it from the Axis of Resistance. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said “Israel prefers ISIS over its borders to Assad.” But Israel, the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates lost the war. Israel has now chosen to maintain the conflict because it fears that the United States may abandon it. This is why Israel attacks hundreds of targets in Syria, most of the time without any strategic value.
Sources of the Axis of Resistance in Syria say that “Israel attacked the Iranian headquarters at the Damascus airport (a building with green glass of which Israel destroyed two floors). The next day, Iran restored it and became operational again. Israel has repeatedly attacked Iranian weapons depots but also an abandoned training center in the center of the Kiswa area that had been empty for years.
They aim to point out to the United States that Israel is threatened and that the departure of US forces would constitute a threat to Israel’s national security. It is indeed too late for Israeli jets to make any difference to Syrian capabilities. Iran is not exporting its weapons but is manufacturing them. It took Israel nine years and 300 air strikes to destroy Iranian warehouses in Syria, it took Iran only one to re-supply and equip the Syrian army with even more sophisticated precision missiles. All the strategic missiles are in underground tanks.
Iran only has a hundred advisers and officers in Syria, but it leads more than tens of thousands of allies in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syrian auxiliary forces that resemble irregularly organized military formations.
In Syria, Hezbollah was able to operate in an area ten times the size of Lebanon, giving it a unique experience that any army in the world would have dreamed of having. It was also subjected to attacks by a NATO member, Turkey, who used armed drones on the battlefield. That gave Hezbollah a wealth of experience and gave them lessons that have been integrated into the curriculum in military schools and universities in Iran with Hezbollah and its allies.
President Assad does not say that it is time for his allies (especially Hezbollah) to leave Syria. Rather, instead, he says – according to a source – that “Syria is indebted to Hezbollah. Wherever Hezbollah wants to be, it will also be Syria’s wish.” The United States and Israel created an unbreakable alliance between Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah began to reap its profits. It was able to impose the name of the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, despite constant opposition from Saudi Arabia and the United States, the losers of the war in Syria.
Lebanon was without a president for several months until General Aoun assumed the presidency. Hezbollah rejected several offers from different countries by giving the Presidency of Parliament to none other than President Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal movement, which has been on that throne for decades. Hezbollah has the real power – but not all – in Lebanon, enough to appoint a President of the Republic and a Head of Parliament.
As for the Prime Minister’s office, it cannot be assumed without Hezbollah’s approval of the candidate running. The organization has sufficient political weight within the Congress and the Presidency of the Republic to nominate or accept the nomination or direct appointment of a Prime Minister.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is making sure that his friendly contacts with Hezbollah are maintained because he could be very excited to return to power. Hariri knows that the door to the Prime Minister’s office goes through Hezbollah.
This does not mean that Hezbollah wants to take complete control of Lebanon.
The organization’s leaders are aware that Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, Sunni leader Rafic Hariri, and Maronite Christian leader Bashir Gemayel as well as the Palestinians all failed to control Lebanon and take the country. Hezbollah does not want to fall into the same mistakes and does not want control of the entire country. This means that in Lebanon there is the influence to counter other countries and it is well rooted in the country.
Hezbollah has successfully preserved the military conduit via Syria by defeating the takfiris (al-Qaeda and ISIS) and prevented them from establishing an “Islamic emirate” in Lebanon and Syria.Hezbollah’s victory comes at a price: thousands of martyrs and thousands of wounded. However, the resulting harvest is so abundant and strategic that the Lebanese Shiites now enjoy more power in Lebanon and Bilad al-Sham than they have ever had since 661, when the fourth caliph, Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, was assassinated.