Preparing for the Third Lebanon War

In a thorough study, Gideon Sa’ar and Ron Tira consider the threat posed by Hizballah’s acquisition of high-precision weapons (which it may soon be able to build itself), its presence, together with Iranian forces, along the Israel-Syria border, and the high likelihood of another war much like the 2007 conflict but more devastating to both sides. Sa’ar and Tira caution that war would be unlikely to lead to anything resembling a decisive victory, but they also stress the need to risk the possibility of war in order to keep Hizballah and its allies from acquiring the most advanced weapons. They write:

In certain senses Israel is unusual in its vulnerability to precision weapons, as on the one hand it is a Western country with advanced critical infrastructure, and on the other hand, it is a small country with concentrated critical infrastructures and little redundancy. . . . [For example], the six largest electricity-generating sites in Israel (including private ones) account for 51 percent of the national capacity for electricity generation. Thus the threat represented by even a small number of precision missiles that breach Israel’s countermeasures and strike critical systems, such as electricity generation, could be unprecedented. The picture is similar with regard to other critical systems. . . . [Therefore], Israel must be prepared to escalate even as far as [all-out] war in order to thwart Hizballah’s precision-capability buildup.

Indeed, Jerusalem could face a situation much graver than the threat of an asymmetric war with a guerrilla army:

[The] military buildups by Iran and Hizballah in Syria, and the production of [advanced] weapons in Lebanon, . . . could be seen as an attempt by Iran and Hizballah to create a symmetrical strategic equation with Israel, if not more than that. . . . Indeed, it is possible that the temporary and partial suspension of the Iranian nuclear program is incentivizing what looks like an attempt to reach a strategic balance against Israel in other spheres, resulting in a dynamic of escalation. These processes could very well put the regional system at a crossroads, and raise the probability of war.

To make matters worse, Sa’ar and Tira note that Russia has thrown in its lot with Iran and Hizballah, raising the stakes considerably:

An extension of the fighting [in an Israel-Hizballah conflict] to Syria . . . could interfere with Russian attempts to stabilize its own order in Syria. Therefore, Russia could try to limit Israel’s political, strategic, and even operational freedom to act. . . . In its six previous campaigns [since 1993 against Hizballah and against Palestinian terrorists], . . . even when Israel made mistakes, the price of such mistakes was tolerable in strategic terms. But the [use] of improved-precision weapons and the [involvement] of Russia could fundamentally change the characteristics of the next conflict, so that it will not be the “seventh in a row.” It is possible that Israel cannot allow itself to delay taking decisions, as it had in the past, and the price of error will be far greater.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Russia, Syria

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy