TBR News February 5, 2018

Feb 05 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 5, 2018 :”Here, from the  Encyclopedia Britannica is a section on the forbears of the current citizenry of the state of Israel:

‘Khazar: Member of a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes that in the late 6th century ce established a major commercial empire covering the southeastern section of modern European Russia. Although the origin of the term Khazar and the early history of the Khazar people are obscure, it is fairly certain that the Khazars were originally located in the northern Caucasus region and were part of the western Turkic empire (in Turkistan). The Khazars were in contact with the Persians in the mid-6th century ce, and they aided the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (reigned 610–641) in his campaign against the Persians.

By the beginning of the 7th century, the Khazars had become independent of the Turkic empire to the east. But by the middle of that century, the expanding empire of the Arabs had penetrated as far northward as the northern Caucasus, and from then on until the mid-8th century the Khazars engaged in a series of wars with the Arab empire. The Arabs initially forced the Khazars to abandon Derbent (661), but around 685 the Khazars counterattacked, penetrating southward of the Caucasus into present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The Khazars and Arabs fought each other directly in Armenia in the 720s, and, though victory passed repeatedly from one side to the other, Arab counterattacks eventually compelled the Khazars to permanently withdraw north of the Caucasus. The Khazars’ initial victories were important, though, since they had the effect of permanently blocking Arab expansion northward into eastern Europe. Having been compelled to shift the centre of their empire northward, the Khazars after 737 established their capital at Itil (located near the mouth of the Volga River) and accepted the Caucasus Mountains as their southern boundary.

During the same period, however, they expanded westward. By the second half of the 8th century, their empire had reached the peak of its power—it extended along the northern shore of the Black Sea from the lower Volga and the Caspian Sea in the east to the Dnieper River in the west. The Khazars controlled and exacted tribute from the Alani and other northern Caucasian peoples (dwelling between the mountains and the Kuban River); from the Magyars (Hungarians) inhabiting the area around the Donets River; from the Goths; and from the Greek colonies on the Crimean Peninsula. The Volga Bulgars and numerous Slavic tribes also recognized the Khazars as their overlords.

Although basically Turkic, the Khazar state bore little resemblance to the other Turkic empires of central Eurasia. It was headed by a secluded supreme ruler of semireligious character called a khagan—who wielded little real power—and by tribal chieftains, each known as a beg. The state’s military organization also seems to have lacked the forcefulness of those of the greater Turkic-Mongol empires. The Khazars seem to have been more inclined to a sedentary way of life, building towns and fortresses, tilling the soil, and planting gardens and vineyards. Trade and the collection of tribute were major sources of income. But the most striking characteristic of the Khazars was the apparent adoption of Judaism by the khagan and the greater part of the ruling class in about 740. The circumstances of the conversion remain obscure, the depth of their adoption of Judaism difficult to assess; but the fact itself is undisputed and unparalleled in central Eurasian history.’

And here is another excerpt from The True History of the Land of Canaan by Issa Nakhleh: ‘The Ashkenazi Jews who lived in Russia and Central Eastern Europe and later on migrated to Western and SOurhtern Rurope, are of Khazar origin and were converted to Judaism in the 9th century A.D. The Khazar Jews have no ethic or historical connection with Palestine.’”

Table of Contents

  • FISA-Gate: The Plot To Destroy Our Republic
  • In blow to GOP, Supreme Court allows Pennsylvania redistricting to proceed
  • Senator warns YouTube algorithm may be open to manipulation by ‘bad actors’
  • Stretched over Two Borders, Hezbollah is Making Israel Anxious
  • Middle East’s Next Oil War? Israel Threatens Lebanon Over Hezbollah and Natural Gas
  • Lebanon will be blown back to the ‘Stone Age,’ Minister Katz warns
  • Hezbollah military strengths
  • Mutial Assured Destruction


FISA-Gate: The Plot To Destroy Our Republic

February 5, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


You don’t need any special analytical abilities to understand “the memo” and its meaning. A simple reading reveals that allegations of skullduggery peeking by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign were entirely accurate: the memo just filled us in on the details. And while the debate has largely been over whether the proper legal procedures were followed by the FBI and administration officials in spying on Carter Page – someone only marginally connected to the Trump campaign – the real question is: why were they sneaking around Page at all?

Oh, he claimed to be an “informal advisor” to the Russian government: he had business interests in Russia and met with Russian officials. Furthermore, and most importantly, he opposed the anti-Russian hysteria that permeates official Washington, and he often said – in public speeches as well as privately – that US sanctions against Russia are a mistake.

But so what? Since when is it illegal to hold these views?

Page was never a “Russian agent,” and the FBI never proved that he was or is. Instead, they submitted that phony BuzzFeed “dossier” to the FISA court as “evidence” justifying their hot pursuit of him on more than one occasion. They did so without telling the judge who paid for the dossier (it was the Clinton campaign, as Trump claimed when this first came out) and they withheld other important details about its provenance – including that it was written by Christopher Steele, a “former” British intelligence agent who openly expressed a passionate desire to see Trump defeated. Nor had they verified the information in the dossier related to Page, because they “didn’t have time,” as former DNI chief James Clapper has said on numerous occasions.

Page was targeted and the information gleaned from listening in on his phone conversations, reading his email, and god knows what other sneaky intrusions, was leaked to the media in a concerted campaign to influence the outcome of the election. So, yes, there was “collusion” – except it wasn’t a pact between Putin and Trump but rather an alliance between Hillary’s campaign and the national security bureaucracy to get her elected. In effect, the top leadership of the FBI became an adjunct of the Clinton campaign – and, after Trump won, they executed a plan to frame him for “collusion” and oust him.

When Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes announced he was going public with it, the Democrats and their Republican Never-Trump allies said it meant the national security of the United States would be put in mortal danger. They trotted out the old “sources and methods” argument, which, it turned out, did not apply to the memo – because it just laid out the bare facts, and revealed neither sources nor methods. (Unless one is talking about the political methodology of the FBI scam, which involved sneaking, peaking, and then leaking).

The Deep State-Democrat fallback position is that Carter Page is really beside the point, because the real genesis of the Russia-gate probe was the investigation into 28-year-old George Papadopoulos, an “energy consultant” even more marginal to the Trump campaign than Page.

According to the New York Times, after being introduced to a number of Russian contacts by a Professor Joseph Mifsud – supposedly a “Maltese academic” who has since completely disappeared – the mysterious pedagogue told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “thousands” of incriminating emails that would damage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Although there’s no evidence Papadopoulos communicated this information to the Trump campaign, the young would-be mover-and-shaker got drunk one night in a London pub and supposedly told an Australian diplomat about the emails: it’s not known whether the Australian had a role in getting him in a talkative mood, but we are told the two met due to the efforts of an Israeli diplomat in London.

If this sounds like a setup to you, then you win the door prize: your very own copy of What Happened, now going for fifty cents at the remainder table.

The Russia-gate conspiracy theorists believe that the Trump campaign somehow had a hand in either procuring or publishing the Clinton/Podesta emails – even though no one has ever produced any evidence of this. Aside from this important lack, there are some big problems with the conspiracist thesis. To begin with, if the Trump people knew about the DNC/Podesta emails in advance, why didn’t they utilize this vital information before WikiLeaks published them? And what purpose would it serve the Russians to let the Trump camp in on the operation, and risk exposure in the process? If they wanted to help Trump, all they had to do was make sure the emails were published. The collusion theory makes no sense – but, then again, Russia-gate has never made much sense.

While the most fanatical anti-Trump types simply denied everything in the memo, the Beltway “libertarians” who hate Trump’s guts — and the honest liberals like Glenn Greenwald who also hate Trump’s guts but who have a conscience and won’t go along with the Russia-gate hoax – were reduced to finger-wagging in response to the memo’s release. Why, they asked, did these very same people, like Rep. Nunes, vote to expand the Deep State’s power to spy on Americans right before the memo came out?

The question answers itself. As Rep. Thomas Massie put it: “Who made the decision to withhold evidence of FISA abuse until after Congress voted to renew FISA program?” More than a few votes would no doubt have been cast differently, and perhaps the outcome would’ve been different. Certainly the debate would’ve been more extensive, and much more interesting.

What’s exciting, to me at least, is the promise by Nunes that this is just the start of the revelations. Next up: the key role played by the State Department in the plot to destroy our republic and hand power over to unelected Deep State bureaucrats. And this means the important – perhaps decisive – part played by foreign actors in all this will be exposed to the light of day. If you thought there was howling about the first Nunes memo, wait until you hear the screams of pain coming from the foreign lobbyists and their “American” sock puppets over Part Two of the Nunes narrative. The real story of who is subverting our republic – and colluding with foreigners to accomplish that goal – is about to come out.

I can hardly wait!

This isn’t about Trump. You may hate him. You may love him. That’s irrelevant. What matters is that a powerful group of Washington insiders is trying to exercise its assumed veto power over who gets to inhabit the White House – and that is impermissible as long as the republic endures.


In blow to GOP, Supreme Court allows Pennsylvania redistricting to proceed

Justice Samuel Alito rejected a Republican plea to block an order from the state supreme court to devise new congressional districts

February 5, 2018


Washington-The Supreme Court on Monday allowed Pennsylvania congressional redistricting to proceed, denying a Republican plea and dealing another blow to GOP prospects in November’s midterm elections.

Justice Samuel Alito rejected emergency appeals from Republican state leaders and voters to block an order from the state supreme court to devise new congressional districts.

Last month, the Pennyslvania Supreme Court struck down the congressional map drawn following the 2010 census by Republicans who controlled the legislature and governor’s office.

In a startling example of political gerrymandering, redistricting designed to favour one party, the Republicans broke decades of geographical precedent to produce contorted district shapes including one that critics said resembled “Goofy kicking Donald Duck”.

There are 18 Pennsylvania districts, which Republicans control 13-5 despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans five to four in the state.

The Democratic-controlled state supreme court said the current boundaries “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania constitution, and blocked the map from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections.

The deadline to file paperwork to run in primaries is 6 March.

The court gave the Republican-controlled state legislature until 9 February to pass a replacement and the Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, until 15 February to submit that replacement to the court. After that deadline, state justices might draw up their own map.

The Supreme Court typically does not review state court decisions based on a state’s constitution. But Pennsylvania Republicans asked the high court to make an exception. Alito handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court is currently weighing whether redistricting can be so partisan that it violates the US constitution, in cases from Maryland and Wisconsin.


Senator warns YouTube algorithm may be open to manipulation by ‘bad actors’

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia warns of ‘optimising for outrageous, salacious, and often fraudulent content’ amid 2016 election concerns

February 5, 2018

by Paul Lewis

The Guardian

The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee has warned that YouTube’s powerful recommendation algorithm may be “optimising for outrageous, salacious and often fraudulent content” or susceptible to “manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities”.

Senator Mark Warner, of Virginia, made the stark warning after an investigation by the Guardian found that the Google-owned video platform was systematically promoting divisive and conspiratorial videos that were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

“Companies like YouTube have immense power and influence in shaping the media and content that users see,” Warner said. “I’ve been increasingly concerned that the recommendation engine algorithms behind platforms like YouTube are, at best, intrinsically flawed in optimising for outrageous, salacious and often fraudulent content.”

He added: “At worst, they can be highly susceptible to gaming and manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities.”

YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is a closely guarded formula that determines which videos are promoted in the “Up next” column beside the video player. It drives the bulk of traffic to many videos on YouTube, where over a billion hours of footage are watched each day.

However, critics have for months been warning that the complex recommendation algorithm has also been developing alarming biases or tendencies, pushing disturbing content directed at children or giving enormous oxygen to conspiracy theories about mass shootings.

The algorithm’s role in the 2016 election has, until now, largely gone unexplored.

The Guardian’s research was based on a previously unseen database of 8,000 videos recommended by the algorithm in the months leading up to the election. The database was collated at the time by Guillaume Chaslot, a former YouTube engineer who built a program to detect which videos the company recommends.

An analysis of the videos contained in the database suggests the algorithm was six times more likely to recommend videos that was damaging to Clinton than Trump, and also tended to amplify wild conspiracy theories about the former secretary of state.

Videos that were given a huge boost by YouTube’s algorithm included dozens of clips that claimed Clinton had a mental breakdown or suffered from syphilis or Parkinson’s disease, and many others that fabricating the contents of WikiLeaks disclosures to make unfounded claims, accusing Clinton of involvement in murders or connecting her to satanic and paedophilic cults.

The videos in the database collated by Chaslot and shared with the Guardian were watched more than three billion times before the election. Many of the videos have since vanished from YouTube and the research prompted several experts to question whether the algorithm was manipulated or gamed by Russia.

The Alex Jones Channel, the broadcasting arm of the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, was one of the most recommended channels in the database of videos.

In his statement, Warner added: “The [tech] platform companies have enormous influence over the news we see and the shape of our political discourse, and they have an obligation to act responsibly in wielding that power.”

Warner’s warning about potential foreign interference in YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is especially noteworthy given Google repeatedly played down the extent of Russian involvement in its video platform during testimony to the Senate committee in December.

The committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the US presidential election is ongoing but has so far mostly focused on Facebook and Twitter.

The 8,000 YouTube-recommended videos were also analysed by Graphika, a commercial analytics firm that has been tracking political disinformation campaigns. It concluded many of the YouTube videos appeared to have been pushed by networks of Twitter sock puppets and bots controlled by pro-Trump digital consultants with “a presumably unsolicited assist” from Russia.

This and other techniques may have encouraged YouTube’s recommendation algorithm into disseminating videos that were damaging to Clinton. Chaslot has said he is willing to cooperate with the Senate intelligence committee and share his database with investigators.

Correspondence made public just last week revealed that Warner wrote to Google demanding more information about YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which he warned could be manipulated by foreign actors.

The senator asked Google what it was doing to prevent a “malign incursion” of its video platform’s recommendation system. Google’s counsel, Kent Walker, offered few specifics in his written reply, but said YouTube had “a sophisticated spam and security ­breach detection system to identify anomalous behavior and malignant incursions”.

Google was initially critical of Guardian’s research, saying it “strongly disagreed” with its methodology, data and conclusions. “It appears as if the Guardian is attempting to shoehorn research, data and their conclusions into a common narrative about the role of technology in last year’s election,” a company spokesperson said. “The reality of how our systems work, however, simply doesn’t support this premise.”

However, last week, after correspondence between the Senate intelligence committee and Google was made public, revealing Warner’s written exchange with the company over the recommendation algorithm, Google offered a new statement.

“We appreciate the Guardian’s work to shine a spotlight on this challenging issue,” the new statement said, pointing to changes made since the election to discourage algorithms from promoting problematic content. “We know there is more to do here and we’re looking forward to making more announcements in the months ahead.”

On Friday, after it was informed the Guardian would imminently publish its investigation, YouTube provided an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which it laid out plans to label state-sponsored content and tackle the proliferation of conspiracy theories on the platform.

The Journal reported the plan “was early in development, so it is unclear when it would take effect – or how the site would select conspiracy theories”.


Stretched over Two Borders, Hezbollah is Making Israel Anxious

August 8, 2017

Joe Macaron

Among the many regional players operating on Syrian soil, two arch-enemies are familiar with each other’s war tactics: Hezbollah and Israel. After challenging Israel for nearly four decades in southern Lebanon, in recent years the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has sought to open a new battlefield in southern Syria. Tel Aviv is growing anxious and has been aggressively targeting any movement by the Lebanese group that could insinuate building or transferring military capabilities near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Iran’s agility in moving weapons and fighters between Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq worries Israel and changes the rules of the game in the Levant.

Covert War in Syria

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s secret visit to Tehran in April 2013, where he met with Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was a turning point in expanding Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian war. Since then, the Lebanese group has built a military base in al-Qusayr, a Syrian town on the border with Lebanon, to stockpile weapons—including Iranian-made ballistic missiles—and operate a training facility. Iran’s strategy to establish a supply line from Tehran to Beirut is gradually expanding Hezbollah’s ability to reach Israeli targets.

So far, Israel has generally had the upper hand in the covert war with Hezbollah in Syria. In January 2015, an Israeli helicopter targeted a Hezbollah convoy in Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights, killing six of its members as well as a prominent general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Ten days later, Hezbollah retaliated from southern Lebanon by launching a rocket attack on the Shebaa Farms that killed two Israeli soldiers. That back-and-forth set the precedent for Hezbollah’s attempts to link the two fronts against Israel. Nasrallah reinforced that concept of simultaneous battlefields in a speech last June when he warned that if Israel attacked Lebanon or Syria, “hundreds of thousands of fighters from all around the Arab and Islamic world” would be ready to fight back. While the Lebanese group has repeatedly threatened Israel with new weapons or tactics, warning about combatants from “Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan” is a new trend in Hezbollah’s tactics of intimidation.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s arsenal of weapons seems to grow despite Israel’s preemptive strikes. In April, Israeli jets flying the Golan shot several missiles at a military site southwest of Damascus International Airport. Intelligence Minister Israel Katz noted that the attack “corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah.” In November 2016, Hezbollah held an unprecedented military parade in al-Qusayr, displaying Soviet made T-72 tanks, Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, and KS-12A anti-aircraft weapons as well as American-made M113 armored personnel carriers that Israeli intelligence concluded were originally supplied to the Lebanese military.

In January 2013, Israeli forces launched an aerial attack on a convoy in the outskirts of Damascus that was believed to be carrying advanced anti-aircraft weaponry from the Syrian regime to Hezbollah, most notably the Russian made SA-17, an advanced anti-aircraft missile system. However, last year the Lebanese group reportedly acquired the SA-17 that Moscow provided to the Syrian regime in 2015. Whether Russia had or had not authorized such a transfer, it shows the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and its preparations for a potential confrontation with Israel. A Hezbollah officer was reportedly quoted as acknowledging that Russians “give us weapons” (surface-to-surface missiles, laser-guided rockets, and anti-tank missiles); however, Israel’s ambassador to Russia told a committee in the Israeli Knesset that Moscow assured Tel Aviv that it had not transferred, and will not transfer, arms to Hezbollah. Even if there is no delivery of weapons, the close coordination between both sides in battles like Aleppo has undoubtedly benefited Hezbollah’s battleground experience.

The Golan Heights: New Rules of the Game

Early in the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah tried to become militarily active in Quneitra, the Golan Heights’ high valley strategically located along the United Nations’ demilitarized disengagement line between Syria and Israel. The tacit agreement between Damascus and Tel Aviv, since the 1973 Arab Israeli War, ensured over four decades of stability in that area. That long-term truce is now in jeopardy as Israel continues to occupy 460 square miles of the Golan.

Samir Kuntar, a Hezbollah commander who played a leading role in attempting to set up the group’s infrastructure in the Golan Heights, was killed in December 2015 in a rocket strike near Damascus. That assassination came a few months after Moscow’s military intervention in Syria. It became evident since then that a Russian-Israeli understanding is allowing Tel Aviv to strike Hezbollah when it attempts to transfer weapons or plan an activity near the Golan Heights area. In hot-mic remarks last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that Israel and Russia have been in talks about the Iranian role in Syria: “I told [President Vladimir] Putin, when we see them transferring weapons to Hezbollah, we will hurt them. We did it dozens of times.”

Now that the Syrian war is entering a new phase, Israel and Iran are using their proxies to force a new reality on the ground. Last March, the al-Nujaba Movement, an Iraqi version of Hezbollah, formed the “Golan Liberation Brigade.” Al-Nujaba was formed in 2013 to join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and played a role in the battle of Aleppo last year. While that new brigade does not appear to constitute a credible threat, it reflects Iranian reach in coordinating attacks against Israel. The Brigade’s spokesperson said in a statement that the new group is ready to participate in the liberation of the Golan “should the Syrian government make the request.”

Meanwhile, over the last five years, Israel has been quietly setting up a zone of control along the Golan Heights’ demarcation line in a similar fashion to the security belt that Tel Aviv established in south Lebanon until 2000 with the help of the “South Lebanon Army.” The control zone runs roughly 6 miles deep and 12 miles long in Quneitra to prevent Hezbollah from approaching the Israeli fence. In 2016, Tel Aviv established a liaison unit to coordinate with Syrian residents, including providing assistance and medical treatment, allowing access to Israel and providing aerial support when needed. Israel is also funding and supporting the Golan Knights (Liwa Forsan al-Joulan), a border guard force of Syrian fighters with light weaponry.

Furthermore, Israeli forces have been increasingly more aggressive this year in retaliating against the Syrian regime. In June, two weeks before announcing the July 7 US-Russia deal, “errant” projectiles were fired at the Golan Heights during confrontations between the Syrian regime and Jabhat al-Nusra. The Israeli Air Force reacted by launching an attack on Syrian regime targets. In April, Israeli forces carried out multiple strikes on pro-Syrian regime fighters in retaliation for mortar fire. These strikes seem to be a message to the Syrian regime that it will come under Israeli attack if it continues to coordinate closely with Iran in southern Syria.

The Lebanese Battlefield: From the South to Arsal

Israel and Hezbollah are satisfied with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought a decade of stability in south Lebanon after the July 2006 war. There is no indication that either side is interested in altering that status quo, as Hezbollah has been mostly invested in the Syrian war. Mediated by the United Nations, Lebanese and Israeli officers continue to hold periodic meetings in the coastal town of Ras al-Naqoura to avoid tensions and confrontation between the two sides. Furthermore, Israel’s anxiety extends to the maritime threat, contemplating a scenario where Hezbollah commandos can potentially breach the coast north of Nahariya to carry out a massive attack backed by missiles launched from the Lebanese coast.

In his visit to Paris in July, Netanyahu asked French President Emmanuel Macron to influence the Lebanese government on Hezbollah’s regional activities. Netanyahu said in a briefing that Beirut “shouldn’t take steps” that would push “a very serious conflict” between Israel and Lebanon. Indeed, the head of the Israeli Air Force, Major General Amir Eshel, warned in June of “unimaginable power” in any future conflict with Hezbollah. “What the air force was able to do quantitatively in the [2006] Lebanon war over the course of 34 days we can do today in 48-60 hours,” he added. It is noteworthy that Nasrallah had threatened in February that Hezbollah could, in return, target the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert.

The mutual verbal threats between Hezbollah and Israel remain focused on southern Lebanon and do not include southern Syria, where both sides are working covertly and quietly against each other. The Israeli military sees that the future war with Hezbollah “will be a real war,” with both guerilla and conventional tactics, as the Lebanese group is growing into a full-fledged army with effective military capabilities.

In that context, in July the Israeli government sent messages to Tehran via Europe warning against the expansion of Hezbollah’s fighting capabilities in southern Lebanon. Israel said it “will not tolerate” an Iranian effort to build underground weapons production factories in south Lebanon that will enable Hezbollah to produce advanced rockets with no need to smuggle them from Iran through Syria. The repeated Israeli targeting of Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah compelled both Tehran and the Lebanese group to consider new options for continuing to update military capabilities.

Hezbollah’s military operation against Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon’s Arsal, which was recently concluded in a deal between both sides, was closely followed by Israel. One of the many implications of that battle is cementing Hezbollah’s leverage over Lebanese institutions; most important, however, is the group’s control over the Beirut-Damascus highway, ensuring the flow of Iranian arms shipments and the coordination of cross-border operations.

Israel, Hezbollah, and the US-Russia Deal

If there is one thing Hezbollah and Israel agree on, it is their objection to the US-Russia deal in southern Syria. Netanyahu opposed the agreement brokered by Jordan while Hezbollah remained silent, waiting for clarity from the Iranian-Russian talks. Hezbollah felt its movements were restrained, while Israel believed it did not get enough guarantees that Iranian-backed militias would not be active in southern Syria at a later stage.

Per the US-Russia deal, Russian police have set up checkpoints and observation posts to implement the ceasefire, keeping Hezbollah at least 8 miles away from the Golan’s demarcation line. Washington and Moscow reportedly reached a deal where Hezbollah leads the fight against Jabhat al-Nusra in Arsal (on the Lebanese-Syrian border) in return for the Lebanese group’s phased withdrawal from Deraa in southern Syria. Hezbollah’s decision to lead the Arsal battle in July seems to reverse an earlier decision, in May, to move 3,000 fighters from the Qalamoun area on the Lebanese-Syrian border to southern Syria.

Moscow has been sensitive to Israeli demands by excluding the “de-escalation zone” in southern Syria from the Astana talks and by allowing Israeli strikes inside Syria. However, Russia did not refrain from colluding with Iran in Syria. On July 17, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that he could “guarantee that the American side and we did the best we can to make sure that Israel’s security interests are fully taken into consideration.” The United States is also attempting to calm Israel’s anxieties, although it remains focused on fighting ISIL. Israel’s complaints regarding the deal are merely an attempt to extract additional concessions and will unlikely risk political confrontation with either Moscow or Washington.

Israel believes the deal perpetuates Iranian influence in Syria and does not address Iranian plans to establish naval and air force bases. Tel Aviv’s red lines in Syria include keeping Iran away from the Israeli border and preventing Hezbollah from acquiring sophisticated weaponry. While Israel might be successful in targeting Hezbollah leaders or Iranian arms shipments, it will be hard in the long run to detect and keep track of the movement of fighters and weapons along the supply line from Tehran to Beirut. The only possibly assured course for Israel, beyond preemptive military strikes, is the implementation of the US-Russia deal and, most importantly, a sustained Russian involvement that can balance Iranian influence in the Syrian conflict.

While in Moscow, meeting with Putin in April 2016, Netanyahu said “with or without a [Syrian] agreement, the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty.” Iran and Hezbollah will undoubtedly use the Israel occupation card. Despite its backing of a few Syrian rebel groups, Tel Aviv does not enjoy support from the community in the non-occupied part of the Golan. Earlier this month, protests occurred in an anti-Syrian-regime town in the southern outskirts of Quneitra against factions cooperating with Israel. Similarly, Hezbollah does not enjoy any support in areas outside the full control of the Syrian regime, and the Lebanese group’s fighters even engaged in sporadic clashes with Syrian troops in territories where they had differences in tactics. Hezbollah is stretched thin on two borders and could risk its political support in Lebanon.

US options are limited beyond imposing additional sanctions against Hezbollah, as there is no appetite to become involved militarily in the Syrian war. Washington is now relying on Moscow to contain Iranian-backed groups and keep them away from southern Syria. Iran seems open to giving up influence in the southwest and north in return for consolidating its control and maintaining the supply line from Iran to Lebanon. In the long run, the risks of confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah may largely depend on how the US-Russia deal will unfold in southern Syria. Meanwhile, both sides are preparing for a war that, for now, seems a long way off.


Middle East’s Next Oil War? Israel Threatens Lebanon Over Hezbollah and Natural Gas

February 1, 2018

by Tom O’Connor


Israel has threatened to invade Lebanon amid a recent spat over natural resources and militant groups that, once again, raised tensions between the longtime foes.

Addressing the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Lebanon’s latest plans to drill in a disputed offshore oil and gas field known as Block 9 were “very, very challenging and provocative,” according to Reuters. In the same speech, the far-right minister threatened to wage a full-scale war against Lebanon if Hezbollah launched any attacks against Israel. The Iran-backed Shiite Muslim movement warned it would defend Lebanon’s natural resources at any cost.

“We reiterate our firm and unequivocal position in decisively confronting any aggression against our oil and gas rights, defending Lebanon’s assets and protecting its wealth,” Hezbollah told Newsweek in an email statement.

Lebanon did not recognize Israel’s 1948 creation, which caused a mass exodus of Palestinians and a regional war between the majority-Jewish state and its Arab, mostly Muslim neighbors. Israel has invaded Lebanon twice, the first time during the 15-year Lebanese civil war and a second time in 2006 in response to Hezbollah’s cross-border raids. In both instances, Hezbollah led the local resistance against Israel, which ultimately withdrew.

In the latest crisis, Israel has warned foreign companies not to invest in Lebanese plans to explore the Block 9 offshore oil reserve located on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon awarded bids last month to France’s Total Sa, Italy’s Eni SpA and Russia’s Novatek PJSC to drill for oil and gas in blocks 4 and 9 within Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone, but Lieberman warned this was a “grave mistake” and “contrary to all the rules” because Block 9 belonged totally to Israel, Bloomberg News reported, citing an Israeli Defense Ministry statement

Lieberman also threatened to respond to Hezbollah aggression with a “full-strength” invasion, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. He vowed, “If in Israel they sit in shelters, then in the next fighting all of Beirut will be in shelters.” These comments have been met with fury back in the Lebanese capital.

“We need to be aware of what the Israeli enemy is plotting against Lebanon, especially with the support of those who are working internally and externally to provide a climate of harmony with the Israeli threats to attack Lebanon,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday in a statement, according to Lebanon’s official National News Agency.

“Lebanon will counter these Israeli claims by diplomatic means, while asserting its right to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all the available means,” he added.

Lebanon was still reeling from a dispute between supporters of Aoun, who represented the mostly Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Muslim Amal Movement. Both former civil war foes were members of the pro-Hezbollah March 8 Alliance, but a new dispute emerged when Aoun promoted dozens of army officers without the approval of one of Berri’s aides. It escalated when Aoun’s son-in-law and party head Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was caught on video calling Berri “a thug,” as Lebanon’s The Daily Star reported.

After massive protests rocked Beirut and beyond, Bassil expressed regret, and Berri contacted Aoun Thursday in an effort to unite the two leaders in the face of Lieberman’s recent warnings. They agreed to meet Tuesday to discuss the crisis. A day before, the National News Agency reported three Israeli gunboats violating Lebanon’s southern maritime boundary near Ras Naqoura, citing an army communiqué. It would be at least the second such

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, head of the majority-Sunni Muslim Future Movement that led the opposition March 14 Alliance, was reportedly present during the phone call between Aoun and Berri. Hariri, who himself was the subject of an international drama involving Saudi Arabia and his brief resignation in November, stood by the two.

“We are facing a major aggression with regard to Lebanon’s oil wealth, especially in Block 9, and Lebanon will have clear and decisive steps in this regard,” Hariri said Thursday in a statement.


Lebanon will be blown back to the ‘Stone Age,’ Minister Katz warns

Echoing messages conveyed to Iran and Hezbollah by the prime minister and IDF spokesperson, the transportation minister tells Ynet that ‘Israel has set a red line—it won’t allow Lebanon to become a factory for the production of precision-guided missiles for Iran’; Education Minister Bennett clarifies: ‘If missiles are fired from Lebanon, Nasrallah will become Lebanon’s destroyer.’

February 4, 2018

by Attila Somfalvi, Alexandra Lukash


Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday warned Hezbollah that Lebanon would go back to “the Stone Age” and maybe even to “the age of cavemen” if it turned into an Iranian factory of precision-guided weapons.

Echoing warnings issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis as to the growing Iranian involvement in Lebanon and the missile factories being built by the Iranians in the country, Katz clarified in an interview to the Ynet studio that “Israel has set a red line—it won’t allow Lebanon to become a factory for the production of precision-guided missiles for Iran.

“We have worked to prevent this from happening in Syria through Iranian weapon smuggling, and we are now making it clear that we won’t allow Iran to build factories for the production of precision-guided missiles or for the conversion of missiles on Lebanese soil. This has been clarified in talks with Russia too, and certainly with the United States and other European countries, as messages aimed at preventing a war and a conflict we have no interest in. We are making our red line clear,” said Katz, a member of Israel’s Political-Security Cabinet.

Asked whether Lebanon and the region’s other countries had the ability to meet Israel’s red lines, Katz replied: “Iran is working to turn Lebanon into an advanced post against Israel and has basically taken Lebanon hostage through Hezbollah by implementing its aggressive trends. On the other side, we have Israel with its abilities—and our abilities must be clear to prevent it.

“We are being very clear. If an open, comprehensive conflict develops as a result of Hezbollah’s aggression, we will act very firmly, much more than we did in 2006. Not a single target in Lebanon will be immune, and any infrastructure used both by Hezbollah and for military purposes will be hit. Lebanon will go back many, many years, some say to the Stone Age and others say to the age of cavemen.”

Asked whether Israel had any intelligence on an Iranian desire to launch a war, Katz replied: “We are receiving intelligence that Iran is working to make the front more dangerous. It’s trying to both entrench itself in Syria and arm Lebanon with accurate missiles.”

Moving on to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which he referred to as “grave,” Katz said: “There are some 2 million people there, and the conflict between Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and Hamas is definitely making the situation worse. We can say that it’s not our businesses, but the reality is that Israel is responsible for what is happening in Gaza because of the siege. I have been suggesting a strategic separation move for a long time now—to build an island, a seaport and international facilities for water desalination and electricity. Not to reward Hamas, but reward Israel, to isolate it and free it from its responsibility.

“We are already paying the price,” Katz argued. “The defense establishment is largely dealing with ways to prevent the sewer flooding, water salinization, prevention of hunger and diseases. My suggestion allows us to lift the siege in a security-controlled manner while maintaining security, to give Gaza an economic connection to the world, to free ourselves from our responsibility for the situation there and hand it over to the world.”

Katz said he was unable to confirm the New York Times report that Israel had attacked Islamic State targets in Sinai more than 100 times to assist Egypt in its battle against the jihadist organization, but stated that “in general, Israel and Egypt share a deep interest to prevent an ISIS entrenchment in Sinai. We must understand that after being defeated in Iraq and Syria, ISIS began flowing into Sinai, and it has Israel—and definitely Egypt—in its sights too.

“Naturally, there is intelligence cooperation and there will likely be other forms of cooperation to target ISIS and prevent it from making good on its threats,” Katz added. “We must also remember that ISIS attacked Eilat and the Negev. Israel definitely sees it as a threat it has to deal with alongside the Iranian threat from the north and from Gaza.”

‘Israel won’t wait for the enemy to reach the fence’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, another member of the Political-Security Cabinet,” also addressed the growing tensions with Lebanon in an interview at the Ynet studio.

“I think that was isn’t a necessary and inevitable thing,” he said. “It depends on both sides, but on us too. The clearer we are in our words and actions, clarifying that we won’t allow threats on our borders, we will be able to prevent the third Lebanon war.

Asked who is expected to stop a war from breaking out, Bennett replied: “We only trust ourselves. At the moment, there’s a developing threat, the missile precision project in Hezbollah’s state of Lebanon, and we won’t let it happen. I must explain that the potential damage of tens of thousands of precision-guided missiles, God forbid, isn’t far and isn’t fundamentally different from the potential damage of a nuclear bomb. And just like we wouldn’t let Hezbollah acquire a nuclear bomb, we can’t let them acquire tens of thousands of accurate missiles that will hit us tomorrow.

“After the Second Lebanon War, (Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan) Nasrallah said that had he known how Israel would respond, he wouldn’t have kidnapped the soldiers. So we’re doing Nasrallah a favor and making it very clear that if a war develops, God forbid, and missiles are fired on us from Lebanon, Nasrallah will become Lebanon’s destroyer and the southern part of the country will sustain a critical blow because of his actions. There, we’re saying it.”

As for the report that Israel was assisting Egypt in its war against ISIS, Bennett said: “I have no intention of confirming or denying the reports. Let me just say this: The State of Israel won’t wait for its enemy to reach the fence. We are working against our enemies far away from the fence, so that the threat won’t reach our door. We are not prevented and are not restricting ourselves from operating anywhere, and the terrorists targeting Israel are at risk anywhere around the globe.”

Addressing the battle between religious-Zionist rabbis and the chief of staff over women’s service in the IDF and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s declaration that “war is brewing,” Bennett insisted that “there is no war with the IDF, absolutely not. The IDF is us, and we are the IDF. The overwhelming majority of the Religious Zionism movement is part of the IDF and serves in the IDF. There is some criticism. There are ways to voice criticism, and it’s perfectly fine, but we must always respect the IDF and respect the rabbis too.”


Hezbollah military strengths


Hezbollah has the armed strength of a medium-sized army. Hezbollah is generally considered the most powerful non-state actor in the world, and to be stronger than the Lebanese Army. A hybrid force, the group maintains “robust conventional and unconventional military capabilities.” Hezbollah’s fighting strength has grown substantially since the 2006 Lebanon War.

Hezbollah does not reveal its manpower and estimates vary widely. In 2016, one high-end estimate said that Hezbollah had about 20,000 active duty troops and 25,000 reservists. They are financed in part by Iran and trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Hezbollah’s military budget runs about one billion dollars per year

Hezbollah’s military strength is somewhat based on the quantity and quality of the rockets they possess, which they use against their primary enemy, Israel. The group’s strategy against Israel uses rockets as offensive weaponry combined with light infantry and anti-armor units to defend their firing positions in southern Lebanon.Estimates of Hezbollah’s total rocket count range from 40,000 to 150,000, which is considerably more than most countries.

Hezbollah possesses limited numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, as well thousands of anti-tank missiles, which they are skilled at using. The group does not have manned aircraft, tanks, or armored vehicles in Lebanon, as they cannot counter Israeli air supremacy. However, Hezbollah maintains armor in neighboring Syria, including T-55 and T-72 tanks. The group has built a large number of weapons caches, tunnels, and bunkers in southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s tactical strengths are cover and concealment, direct fire, and preparation of fighting positions, while their weaknesses include maneuver warfare, small arms marksmanship, and air defenses.Though Hezbollah light infantry and anti-tank squads are well-regarded, Hezbollah as a whole is “quantitatively and qualitatively” weaker than the Israel Defense Forces.

Sources generally agree that Hezbollah’s strength in conventional warfare compares favorably to state militaries in the Arab world. A 2009 review concluded that Hezbollah was “a well-trained, well-armed, highly motivated, and highly evolved war-fighting machine” and “the only Arab or Muslim entity to successfully face the Israelis in combat.”

Hezbollah typically does not discuss their military operations and there are many unknowns about their military capabilities. Hezbollah, Israel and others may have reasons to mistate the movement’s capabilities. Estimates for Hezbollah’s overall strength and manpower vary widely.

All, or almost all, of Iran’s military aid to Hezbollah passes through Syria, and if Syria did not cooperate Hezbollah’s ability to acquire weaponry would decline dramatically. As Iran and Syria are Hezbollah’s main patrons, most of Hezbollah’s rockets, small arms, money, and ammunition transit through Syria. The only other efficient route for Iran to supply Hezbollah goes through Turkey, but Turkey is not aligned with Tehran and currently blocks Iranian trucks and planes from passing through its territory. Sending supplies by sea from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to the Syrian port of Latakia has been used in the past,but takes much longer and risks interdiction.

Hezbollah obtains some weaponry from black markets and possibly from the Lebanese military. Dual-use technology, including night vision goggles, laser rangefinders, GPS receivers, advanced aircraft-analysis and design software, stun guns, nitrogen laser cutters, naval equipment, and ultrasonic dog deterrents were purchased from private vendors in the United States and Canada in the early 2000s.Israel claims that Iran has established two underground weapons factories in Lebanon’s mountainous Bekaa valley region, producing advanced Fateh-110 missiles and small arms.

Since the start of the civil war in Syria, Israel has launched airstrikes on “advanced” or “game-changing” weaponry in Syria it says is destined for Hezbollah. Reportedly, Israel has interdicted Fateh-110/M600 guided missiles, drones, anti-ship missiles, and air defense systems. Most sources suggest the airstrikes have been effective but not perfect in stopping the flow of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.

Because Hezbollah’s fortified sites and underground facilities are resistant to airstrikes, they cannot be neutralized without a ground response. In turn, Hezbollah can use its weapons caches and strongpoints to challenge Israeli ground forces. In 2006, distributed caches of necessities gave fighters sufficient provisions to fight despite IAF interdiction of resupplies.The group had about 500–600 weapons caches in 2006. Some Hezbollah units continued to fire rockets onto Israel even from behind IDF lines. Following the 2006 war, Hezbollah was forced to abandon its bunkers and “nature reserves” south of the Litani River. Despite abandoning most of their bunkers, Israeli intelligence says they have “very good intelligence,” but not proof, that Hezbollah has built bunkers and “underground cities” in the UNIFIL zone in southern Lebanon.

Launch sites

Hezbollah has hundreds of launch sites for its rockets throughout southern Lebanon, an increase from 200 to 300 launch sites in 2006. Spare rockets and equipment are stored in civilian houses and bunkers. Most rockets are moved from storage to firing position by one team, and fired by another. Hezbollah rocket teams were given giving simple mission-type instructions to maintain rocket fire on Israel and often operated independently for the duration of the 2006 war. Tactically, Hezbollah managed to fire Katyusha rockets as regularly as they had planned, and their rocket teams were determined and had good logistics. However, the rockets failed to have a coercive strategic effect on Israel, and did not end the war.

Hezbollah sappers have built large numbers of presurveyed and prepared launching positions for rockets to use in war. A skeleton crew quickly moves rockets into position and fires them singly or in bulk with minimal logistical support. Some rockets are hidden underground with pneumatic lifts to raise and fire them or launched from trucks Although Israel can target the launch sites within minutes of a launch, the IDF in 2006 could generally not destroy launch sites before use and therefore could not stop the rain of rocket attacks.


Mutial Assured Destruction

  • Hezbollah Claims a ‘Nuclear Option’ in Tense Standoff with Israel
  • The threat of devastation on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon conflict is now enormous. Does that mean no more wars?

by Neri Zilber

March 3, 2017

The Daily Beast

TEL AVIV — “Lebanon has a nuclear bomb,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared in a televised address to supporters of the Shia militant group in Beirut last month. “This is no exaggeration,” he went on, before admitting that it was, in fact, a slight exaggeration. “We don’t really have a nuclear bomb,” he said, laughing—rather, the threat was that “several missiles” launched from Lebanon onto ammonia storage depots in the Israeli port city of Haifa would “lead to the same impact as a nuclear bomb.” Citing a previous Israeli study, Nasrallah claimed that blowing up 15,000 tons of the toxic gas in a densely populated region of 800,000 people would lead to tens of thousands of casualties.

In Israel, Hezbollah’s latest threat dominated national headlines, underlining the tense cold war going on between the two old foes. Like the historic global battle between East and West, this more localized Middle Eastern version sees both Israel and Hezbollah preparing tenaciously for the next round of hostilities, a hot war of untold destruction, while maintaining the present nervy standoff and engaging carefully, when need be, in contained skirmishes.

“The missiles of the resistance cover each and every spot in occupied Palestine,” Nasrallah threatened, touting his “nuclear” option. Yet in line with classic deterrence theory, he went on to add: “We do not want war. This kind of war is not part of our strategy, but we must be ready for it, in order to prevent it and in order to be able to win it, if it takes place.”

Such a statement perfectly encapsulates Israel’s current strategic thinking regarding Hezbollah as well.

Nasrallah’s boast about his group’s expansive missile capabilities is not mere bluster. Haifa’s ammonia depots are just one of many potential targets inside Israel. Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal, estimated at 150,000, is believed to now hold precision guidance systems—putting not only Haifa’s heavy industries but the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Kiryah Tel Aviv headquarters, the Knesset parliament building in Jerusalem, and the nuclear reactor in Dimona in harm’s way.

A day after Nasrallah spoke, IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot admitted that Hezbollah was Israel’s biggest threat and the “organization with the most significant capabilities” to inflict harm on the country. Indeed, in private discussions IDF officers betray a grudging respect for Hezbollah, comparing other armed groups—Hamas, ISIS, etc.—to the Lebanese militia and finding them all wanting.

Nearly everything Eisenkot has done since assuming the top military post one year ago appears to have been done with Hezbollah in mind.

The IDF is in the process of implementing a new five-year strategic plan called “Gideon” that views sub-state armed groups like Hezbollah as Israel’s main military threat—above conventional armies or even the Iranian nuclear program.

As part of Gideon, the IDF is restructuring its force posture, one element of which was the formation of an elite Commando Brigade for more agile, penetrating attacks against guerrilla groups. The Israeli Air Force, as the Jerusalem Post and others have reported, has been developing more “efficient” precision-strike capabilities that can deliver thousands of bombs onto targets daily— to exactly combat Hezbollah’s widely dispersed missile storage facilities and command and control positions. More revealing still: For the past several years IDF infantry and armor brigades have been undergoing intensive training exercises, with an eye to a major ground offensive inside Lebanon.

Just what that ground operation would look like recently was described for The Daily Beast by a senior IDF officer with responsibility for Lebanon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, according to IDF protocol.

The difference between the last major Israel-Hezbollah confrontation in 2006, when Hezbollah held out for weeks against the once-seemingly invincible IDF, and the next conflict, the officer explained, “Will be the difference between an operation and a war: 2006 was an operation and we didn’t use all of our power. Next time it won’t just be planes flying around.” (In 2006, Israel initially tried to win the fight without putting boots on the ground.) This time, said the officer, “Ground forces will be maneuvering into southern Lebanon, wherever Hezbollah is—we will use all of our power to destroy Hezbollah militarily.”

Of course, in the 2006 war, Israel did belatedly launch an ill-defined ground campaign. In the next conflict, the IDF seems to be promising, a major ground offensive likely tallying several divisions is a given.

Based on past campaigns, whether against Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a ground component is likely the only way to stem the rate of enemy fire—via rockets and missiles—targeting Israel’s civilian population. “Indirect fire” it’s called, a brutally effective, and cynical, asymmetric warfighting strategy meant to sabotage Israeli civilian life while almost welcoming harsh Israeli airstrikes that usually bring with them high civilian casualties, since organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas are known to operate among their own civilian populations.

On the eve of the 2006 conflict Hezbollah had an estimated 12,000 to 18,000 rockets in its arsenal, and was able to keep firing at Israel for the duration of the 34-day war. Hamas in 2014 had an estimated arsenal of 10,000 rockets and was able to keep firing at Israel for nearly two months. Hezbollah has now dramatically upped the ante, with more sophisticated weapons systems and an arsenal, as mentioned, of 150,000 rockets including those precision missiles. A recent report in the Israeli Yediot Ahronoth daily stated that, in the next conflict, Hezbollah could likely maintain a rate of fire of over 1,000 rockets and missiles—per day. It’s unclear what kind of damage such firepower can wreak on Israel (and what damage Israel will feel it has to wreak in response), and how Israel’s advanced missile defense systems, operational since 2011, will cope with such a deluge.

Tellingly, it was precisely Eisenkot, in a prior position as commander of the IDF Northern Command, who gave rise to the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a strategy intended to deter Hezbollah aggressiveness through the promise of “non-proportional” devastation being brought to bear on the group’s south Beirut stronghold. This, along with the above promises of a major ground offensive, is Israel’s own version of deterrence theory, a threat of unchecked war in order to avoid war.

Neither side wants a major escalation at present, in particular Hezbollah, given its direct involvement in the Syrian civil war—a major constraining factor for the organization, according to IDF assessments.

Yet as the senior IDF officer pointed out, “Hezbollah is organizing and preparing for the next round—checking Israeli responses and border obstacles, patrolling the border, building new combat posts, training its forces deep inside Lebanon” and, of course, there are the missiles.

The officer was, indeed, “impressed” by Hezbollah’s ability to do all this while so deeply committed to the Syrian front—a commitment, he added, that may give the group tangible small-unit offensive capabilities to take the next fight into Israel itself, perhaps through underground attack tunnels similar to those used by Hamas in Gaza.

But the Syrian conflict has also opened a new front in the Israel-Hezbollah cold war, whereby Hezbollah—along with its Iranian patron—has used the anarchy to establish terror cells among the Druze villages in the northern Golan Heights bordering Israel.

Hezbollah assistance has helped the Assad regime retain this small pocket of influence; according to Israel, the largest number of Syrian rocket and IED attacks on its citizens and soldiers come from this area of the Golan.

Israel, in turn, has responded with its own version of proxy war, reportedly targeting senior Hezbollah and Iranian operatives responsible for the Golan front at least twice via airstrikes in the past year. More interesting still, Israeli officialdom concedes that it provides Druze villages on the Syrian frontier with “humanitarian assistance,” possibly beyond the medical aid that has been widely publicized. As the IDF officer stated cryptically, “The wishes of the local people are key—they want to maintain daily life, and we want to keep terror away from the Israeli border.”

Given the volatility of this Syrian front—including multiple reported Israeli airstrikes on suspected Hezbollah weapons shipments—it’s not a surprise to hear from the IDF officer, “Even a very small spark can start a confrontation.”

Hezbollah has so far been careful not to respond to the above losses with deadlier force than it deems absolutely necessary, precisely so as to avoid a wider war.

Israel, too, doesn’t officially take credit for any strikes inside Syria, allowing the Shia militia some plausible deniability. But this is a high-stakes game with great potential for strategic miscalculation. The recent decision by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to pull out of Lebanon and brand Hezbollah a terrorist organization in fact opens the door for it and Iran to establish even greater control there, and may bring a period of increased tensions with Israel. As was the case in the East-West Cold War, a local incident could undo the best-laid deterrence doctrines.

Based on the serious preparations underway and firepower available to both sides, the next Israel-Hezbollah war holds the potential to be the most destructive Arab-Israeli confrontation since the 1973 October War. Hezbollah might not have a real nuclear bomb, and Nasrallah might still be laughing for the cameras, but a whiff of mutually assured destruction still hovers over the lives of citizens in both Israel and Lebanon.




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