Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Israel’s Next War Could Be Lebanon: Analyst

One high-profile U.S. observer thinks Israel might initiate hostilities with Hezbollah as a possible catalyst to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

While speculation over a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities intensifies, at least one influential analyst here is calling on Washington to focus more on the likelihood of a new war breaking out between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and how to prevent or contain it.

In his eight-page ‘Contingency Planning Memorandum’ released last week by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer (ret.) argued that Israel was more likely than Hezbollah to initiative hostilities and that it could “also use a conflict with Hezbollah as the catalyst and cover for an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

He also warned that, as in the 2006 war that was touched off by Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli border patrol, “even small-scale military engagements with limited objectives can escalate into a major conflict” involving outside powers – notably Syria – with “significant implications for U.S. policy and interests in the region.”

“If the next Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation were to result in a sharp decline in Hezbollah’s military capabilities and was not accompanied by substantial civilian casualties or destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, the result would be beneficial for U.S. interests,” he wrote. “However, such an outcome is slim.”

“The more likely unfolding of an Israeli-Hezbollah war would hold almost no positive consequences for the United States, which is focused on three Middle East priorities: trying to slow or stop Iran’s nuclear program, withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, and helping Middle East peace talks succeed,” according to his report, entitled ‘A Third Lebanon War’.

In an email exchange with IPS, the author, Kurtzer, who served as ambassador to both Israel and Egypt and specialized in the Middle East during a distinguished foreign-service career spanning three decades, stressed that he did not believe war was imminent, despite an escalation of rhetoric in recent months on both sides of the border.

“My timeframe for the crisis to erupt was 12-18 months,” he wrote. “I don’t think the immediate term poses risks, but the situation could change or deteriorate rapidly and without much advance warning.”

Speculation about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program has grown in recent weeks, as both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his neoconservative allies here have argued that recently adopted U.S. and international economic sanctions are unlikely to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program before it accumulates enough highly enriched uranium to manufacture a bomb.

In just the past week, since Netanyahu returned home from a summit here with President Barack Obama, neoconservatives, who have been close to Netanyahu’s Likud Party since the early 1980’s, have stepped up calls for Washington to provide support for Israel should it decide to carry out an eventual attack, or, better yet, to carry out its own.

Indeed, the cover story of this week’s Weekly Standard, a hard-line neo- conservative publication headed by William Kristol, is entitled ‘Should Israel Bomb Iran?’. The story, by Reuel Marc Gerecht, who worked previously at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and is currently employed by another Likudist group, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is sub- titled ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’.

While Kurtzer’s study does not address the likelihood of such an attack, it argues that Hezbollah’s increasingly potent missile arsenal – much of it believed to be supplied by Iran, as well as Syria – and the security threat it poses to Israel may move policymakers in the Jewish state to “take preemptive military action”.

While it does not exclude the possibility that Hezbollah could launch an attack, possibly to unify its supporters, particularly after the passing of Shi’a cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah or at the urging of an Iranian leadership eager to deflect international pressure on its nuclear program, the more likely scenario is for Israel to either initiate hostilities or “lure [Hezbollah] into a war to destroy capabilities that threaten Israel’s security,” according to Kurtzer, who also served as a key Middle East adviser to the Obama during his presidential campaign.

“The combination of the size and quality of Hezbollah’s missile inventory; the possible acquisition of long-range, accurate missiles; and the possible upgrading of Hezbollah’s surface-to-air missile capability changes the equilibrium on the ground to an extent that Israel views as threatening,” according to the report. The report argues that Israel would likely exploit an “operational opportunity”, such as an attack against a convoy carrying long- range weapons or a storage facility in Lebanon or even in Syria that it claims Hezbollah is using.

The study noted that indicators and other warning signs of war are “already evident” and include an increase in anti-Israeli rhetoric on Hezbollah’s part and in official statements on Hezbollah from Israel – specifically, recent allegations that the group had acquired Scud missiles from Syria and that its fighters are being trained there in their use. It also pointed to heightened levels of Israeli military and civil-defense preparedness on the northern front.

If war breaks out, according to Kurtzer, Washington could suffer serious setbacks to its regional priorities, including a resumption of Syrian support for Iraqi insurgents in Iraq and the likelihood that U.S.-encouraged Arab- Israeli peace efforts would “enter another deep freeze”.

Washington’s capacity to prevent a war, according to the study, is “limited” given both Israel’s perception of the threat and the fact that Washington has no relations with Hezbollah or Iran and that Obama’s initial efforts to upgrade ties with Syria have largely stalled as a result of opposition by Republicans and the right-wing leadership of the so-called Israel Lobby.

Nonetheless, Kurtzer calls for Washington to upgrade U.S.-Israeli intelligence exchanges; re-iterate U.S. support for Israel’s right of self-defense and concerns about Hezbollah’s re-armament; increase pressure on Syria to halt arms shipments to Hezbollah; support international monitoring efforts; and prepare both for the likelihood of war and its aftermath, including the possibility of launching a post-conflict diplomatic initiative to promote a broader Arab-Israeli peace process.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, expressed disappointment that the study did not recommend a more assertive effort by Washington to push Netanyahu into negotiations with Syria over the occupied Golan Heights as a way of gaining Damascus’ co-operation in curbing arms supplies to Hezbollah.

“The study touches on settling the Golan issue only in passing, which is the core for Syria and could get to the root of the problem,” Landis, whose www.syriacomment.com blog is widely read here, told IPS. “It’s disheartening because it seems that such an august think tank as CFR has given up on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and is today reduced to recommending very smart methods to manage it.”

Kurtzer confirmed that, while Syrian President Bashir al-Assad “appears interesting again in negotiations [with Israel], Netanyahu has shown no apparent interest. This could change, if progress stalls with the Palestinians or if the defense establishment [in Israel] persuades Netanyahu to switch his focus to Syria.”

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to IPS Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/). He blogs at http://www.lobelog.com/.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, has been selected by President Trump to replace National Security Adviser McMaster, marking a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.

The Institute for the Study of War is a D.C.-based counterinsurgency think tank that has supported long-term U.S. military intervention in the Greater Middle East, especially Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has been an outspoken proponent of militarist U.S. foreign polices and the use of torture, aping the views of her father, Dick Cheney.

United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.

Gina Haspel is a CIA officer who was nominated to head the agency by President Donald Trump in March 2018. She first came to prominence because of accusations that she oversaw the torture of prisoners and later destroyed video evidence of that torture.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson, is a “tea party” Republican who previously served as director of the CIA.

Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served as a foreign policy aide to former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

New NSA John Bolton represents an existential threat to the Iran nuclear deal and any hopes for peace in the region.

Print Friendly

Hardliners at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are working overtime to convince the Trump administration to “fix” the nuclear agreement with Iran on the pretext that it will give the US leverage in negotiations with North Korea.

Print Friendly

North Korea and Iran both understand the lesson of Libya: Muammar Qaddafi, a horrifyingly brutal dictator, gave up his nuclear weapons, was eventually ousted from power with large-scale US assistance, and was killed. However, while Iran has a long and bitter history with the United States, North Korea’s outlook is shaped by its near-total destruction by forces led by the United States in the Korean War.

Print Friendly

Europe loathes having to choose between Tehran and Washington, and thus it will spare no efforts to avoid the choice. It might therefore opt for a middle road, trying to please both parties by persuading Trump to retain the accord and Iran to limit missile ballistic programs and regional activities.

Print Friendly

Key members of Trump’s cabinet should recognize the realism behind encouraging a Saudi- and Iranian-backed regional security agreement because the success of such an agreement would not only serve long-term U.S. interests, it could also have a positive impact on numerous conflicts in the Middle East.

Print Friendly

Given that Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah in its war in Lebanon in 2006, it’s difficult to imagine Israel succeeding in a war against both Hezbollah and its newfound regional network of Shiite allies. And at the same time not only is Hezbollah’s missile arsenal a lot larger and more dangerous than it was in 2006, but it has also gained vast experience alongside its allies in offensive operations against IS and similar groups.

Print Friendly

Donald Trump should never be excused of responsibility for tearing down the respect for truth, but a foundation for his flagrant falsifying is the fact that many people would rather be entertained, no matter how false is the source of their entertainment, than to confront truth that is boring or unsatisfying or that requires effort to understand.