The U.S. Can Best Restrain Hizballah by Pressuring Beirut

Sept. 15 2017

While Hizballah might now be too involved in Syria to desire conflict with Israel, writes Tony Badran, it is only a matter of time before the organization decides to turn its attention southward. And it will do so from a position of much greater strength, leading to disaster in Lebanon. The U.S. can, and should, try to prevent war:

[T]he war [in Syria] has significantly boosted Hizballah’s strategic position, because it has boosted Iran’s, and Hizballah is simply an extension of Iran. So despite its serious losses, Hizballah has managed to . . . establish territorial contiguity and strategic depth through western Syria. Hizballah and Iran have expanded their direct control over Syrian areas adjacent to the Lebanese border and the Damascus area with its airport. They [also] expanded their presence in southern Syria and are trying to move on eastern Syria to connect with Iran’s assets in Iraq. . . .

Iran and its proxies [now] need time to connect their Iraqi, Syrian, and Lebanese assets. Hizballah will then use that territory for, among other things, striking Israel, transforming its presence in Syria from a constraint to an enormous advantage. The clock is ticking for Israel. . . .

U.S. policy in the region needs an urgent adjustment to tackle the strategic mess of President Barack Obama’s policy of realignment with Iran. This means that priority should be given to undoing Iran’s position in Syria, and to preventing its deployment of strategic weapons and establishment of military infrastructure there.

Our current failed Lebanon policy should also be radically revised, as it has resulted in the consolidation of Hizballah’s control and in the growth of its military capability. The notion that we can coddle the Lebanese “state,” which Hizballah controls, and support the Lebanese military, which works directly with Hizballah, and then say we’re weakening Hizballah and rolling back Iranian influence simply doesn’t add up. Hizballah is using our investment in Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to its advantage. That should end.

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Read more at Cipher Brief

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

 

Reengaging the Syrian Government Has Brought Jordan an Influx of Narcotics, but Little Stability

As Syria’s civil war drags on, and it seems increasingly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will be overthrown, Arab states that had anathematized his regime for its brutal treatment of its own people have gradually begun to rebuild economic and diplomatic relations. There are also those who believe the West should do the same. The case of Jordan, argues Charles Lister, shows the folly of such a course of action:

Despite having been a longtime and pivotally important backer of Syria’s armed anti-Assad opposition since 2012, Jordan flipped in 2017 and 2018, eventually stepping forward to greenlight a brutal, Russian-coordinated Syrian-regime campaign against southern Syria in the summer of 2018. Amman’s reasoning for turning against Syria’s opposition was its desire for stability along its border, to create conditions amenable to refugee returns, and to rid southern Syria of Islamic State cells as well as an extensive Iranian and Hizballah presence.

As hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians were swiftly besieged and indiscriminately bombed from the ground and air, Jordan forced its yearslong Free Syrian Army partners to surrender, according to interviews I conducted with commanders at the time. In exchange, they were promised by Jordan a Russian-guaranteed reconciliation process.

Beyond the negligible benefit of resuming trade, Russia’s promise of “reconciliation” has resolutely failed. Syria’s southern province of Daraa is now arguably the most unstable region in the country, riddled with daily insurgent attacks, inter-factional strife, targeted assassinations, and more. Within that chaos, which Russia has consistently failed to resolve, not only does Iran remain in place alongside Hizballah and a network of local proxy militias but Iran and its proxies have expanded their reach and influence, commanding some 150 military facilities across southern Syria. Islamic State, too, continues to conduct sporadic attacks in the area.

Although limited drug smuggling has always existed across the Syria-Jordan border, the scale of the Syrian drug trade has exploded in the last two years. The most acute spike occurred (and has since continued) immediately after the Jordanian king Abdullah II’s decision to speak with Assad on the phone in October 2021. Since then, dozens of people have been killed in border clashes associated with the Syrian drug trade, and although Jordan had previously been a transit point toward the prime market in the Persian Gulf, it has since become a key market itself, with Captagon use in the country now described as an “epidemic,” particularly among young people and amid a 30-percent unemployment rate.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Drugs, Jordan, Middle East, Syrian civil war