Although the Trump administration has abandoned its predecessor’s commitment to partnering with Iran and respecting Tehran’s so-called “strategic equities” in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, it still follows an indirect approach to countering Hizballah. Tony Badran argues that Washington must start confronting the terrorist organization and other Iranian proxies more aggressively, and abandon its commitment to an illusory stability in Lebanon:
The area between Damascus, south Lebanon, and the Golan Heights is now an Iranian zone. And, most recently, Hizballah and Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have connected with their Iraqi units on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.
These developments represent a strategic setback for the United States and its allies. . . . But the overriding U.S. interest in Syria has not changed: to disrupt this Iranian territorial link [with Lebanon via Iraq and Syria] and to degrade Hizballah, the IRGC, and their weapons capabilities in Syria and Lebanon. This is a priority that the United States still can, and should, pursue, even if it requires a more direct involvement today than it would have done a few years ago.
Iranian forces are vulnerable. They are overstretched and, in certain cases, they are operating in exposed terrain. The new military structures they are building are equally exposed. Israel has been exploiting these vulnerabilities to target military installations, bases, and weapons shipments, as well as senior IRGC and Hizballah cadres. The Russian presence has not deterred the Israelis. The United States should reinforce this Israeli policy by adopting Israeli red lines as its own. And, using the considerable elements of U.S. power in the region, it can expand this campaign against Iran’s and Hizballah’s military infrastructure, arms shipments, logistical routes, and senior cadres. Local Syrian groups in eastern and southern Syria, and their sponsors, should also be empowered to take part in this endeavor.
Having the United States behind this policy strengthens Israel’s position vis-à-vis the Russians and provides it with more room to maneuver, especially in the case of a conflagration with Hizballah that expands to Lebanon. Throughout the Syrian war, the U.S. position has held Lebanese stability sacrosanct, even as Lebanon was the launching pad for Hizballah’s war effort in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and even as the group multiplied its stockpile of missiles aimed at Israel. Should the targeting of IRGC and Hizballah assets lead to an escalation that encompasses Lebanon, the United States should offer full backing to Israel as it destroys Iran’s infrastructure in Lebanon and degrades its long arm on the Mediterranean. Lebanon’s stability, insofar as it means the stability of the Iranian order and forward missile base there, is not, in fact, a U.S. interest.