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Israel’s Diplomatic Battle with the U.S. over Lebanon

July 20 2017

When the Syrian civil war threatened to spill over into Lebanon, the country’s military cooperated with Hizballah to keep Sunni jihadists out. This cooperation, combined with Hizballah’s increasing political influence, has blurred the lines between the terrorist organization and the Lebanese state itself. At least, this is how Israel and Saudi Arabia see the situation. The U.S. disagrees, as Jonathan Spyer writes:

As the 2006 war [with Israel] and subsequent events graphically demonstrated, Hizballah and its patrons [in Tehran] can operate an independent foreign and military policy without seeking the permission of the [government] in Beirut. What has happened in the intervening decade, however, is that Hizballah and its allies, rather than simply ignoring the wishes of the state, have progressively absorbed its institutions. . . . Hizballah and its allies prevented the appointment of a Lebanese president for two years, before ensuring the ascendance of their own allied candidate, Michel Aoun, in October 2016. . . .

What of the issue of security cooperation between Hizballah and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? No serious observer of Lebanon disputes that open cooperation between the two forces has increased over the last half decade. . . . The U.S., however, has continued its relationship with the LAF, which was the recipient of $200 million in assistance from Washington last year. . . .

The difference of opinion between the U.S. and Israel in this regard is of growing importance because of the emergent evidence of hitherto unreported Hizballah activities. In particular, there is deep disquiet in Israel regarding revelations of an Iranian-supported, homegrown Hizballah arms industry. This, combined with what may be the beginnings of a slow winding-down of the Syrian war raises the possibility of renewed tensions with Hizballah. . . .

[If and when war does come, Israel’s] intention will be to dismiss any distinction between Hizballah and the Lebanese state, and to wage war against Lebanon [itself], on the basis that the distinction has become a fiction. This will involve an all-out use of military force that will be intended to force a relatively quick decision. For this to be conceivable, a diplomatic battle must first be won.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Second Lebanon War, U.S. Foreign policy

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen