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Only a Comprehensive Strategy of Pushback and Deterrence Can Curb Iran’s Ambitions

Jan. 18 2018

Over the past decade, the Islamic Republic has gained steadily in strength and influence, to the point where it now controls Lebanon and exerts considerable influence over Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. To reverse this trend, argues Michael Eisenstadt, the U.S., while avoiding war, must confront Iran economically, militarily, and politically. He lays out a plan for doing so, some elements of which are as follows:

Washington should abandon its default commitment to regional stability. Rather, it should seek stability when that serves U.S. interests, and exploit instability when playing the role of spoiler may harm its adversaries. In doing so, the United States will be turning the tables on adversaries like Iran and Russia that have often used this same tactic against it. Washington should likewise counter Tehran’s proxy strategy with a U.S. proxy strategy. . . . Wherever possible, Washington should tie down Iranian and proxy forces in low-level, open-ended conflicts that could limit their ability to engage in troublemaking elsewhere. This includes quietly encouraging domestic unrest in Iran to divert resources that might otherwise be spent on capabilities to engage in troublemaking abroad. . . .

Iraq is the geopolitical fulcrum of efforts to disrupt Iran’s so-called land bridge to the Levant; as long as Iraq remains contested terrain, Iran’s ability to project power into the Levant will be subject to a degree of uncertainty. The key for Washington is to remain engaged. Here, the United States will find willing partners. Most mainstream Iraqi politicians—such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi—want the United States to remain in Iraq so that Iran does not become the uncontested foreign power there. . . .

The overwhelming imperative for the United States in the Levant is to prevent another Hizballah-Israel war. Yet U.S. policy in recent years may have made such a war more likely. . . . [To make the best of the situation], the United States should make clear that it will do the following: provide Israel the diplomatic and military cover needed to wage war successfully [against Hizballah and the Iranian presence in Syria]—even in the face of Russian opposition; augment Israel’s rocket and missile defenses with U.S. sea- and land-based systems; provide Israel with penetrator and other munitions required to deal with hardened underground bunkers and weapons factories; and provide Israel with the intelligence needed to interdict Shiite militias heading to the front from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Finally, the United States should make clear that it will agree to end [a war between Israel and Hizballah] only when conditions for an enduring ceasefire have been met, and it should quietly warn Hizballah and the Assad regime that the damage inflicted by a war with Israel could reignite civil wars in Lebanon and Syria.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

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

 

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy