Iran Out to Remake Mideast With Arab Enforcer: Hezbollah: Ben Hubbard, New York Times, Aug. 27, 2017— For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel.
With Win Over Islamic State, Hezbollah Gains New Sway in Lebanon: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31, 2017— Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia has branded the recent expulsion of Islamic State’s militants from their main stronghold in the country as a “great victory” akin to forcing out Israel’s occupation forces in 2000.
Israel and Hezbollah: The Battle Before the Battle: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, July 22, 2017— During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli military actions were limited by the broader diplomatic situation.
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri Joins With Hezbollah to Con Donald Trump: Tony Badran, Tablet, Aug. 2, 2017 — The day after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Trump at the White House, a member of his delegation saluted Hezbollah on social media from Washington.
Victory for Israel in the Security Council: Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva, Aug. 30, 2017
Why Did Syria, Hezbollah Bus ISIS Fighters Near Iraq?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 30, 2017
The Low-Profile War Between Israel and Hezbollah: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Aug. 31, 2017
The Next War Against Hezbollah: Strategic and Operational Considerations: Udi Dekel and Assaf Orion, INSS, 2017
New York Times, Aug. 27, 2017
For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state. But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has changed, too.
It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran. Hezbollah is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.
Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing around the region. Hezbollah has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias. Months of interviews with officials, fighters, commanders and analysts from nine countries, and with members of Hezbollah itself, bring to light an organization with new power and reach that has not been widely recognized. Increasingly, Iranian leaders rely on it to pursue their goals.
Iran and Hezbollah complement each other. Both are Shiite powers in a part of the world that is predominantly Sunni. For Iran, a Persian nation in a mostly Arab region, Hezbollah lends not just military prowess but also Arabic-speaking leaders and operatives who can work more easily in the Arab world. And for Hezbollah, the alliance means money for running an extensive social services network in Lebanon, with schools, hospitals and scout troops — as well as for weapons, technology and salaries for its tens of thousands of fighters. The network Hezbollah helped build has changed conflicts across the region. In Syria, the militias have played a major role in propping up President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally. In Iraq, they are battling the Islamic State and promoting Iranian interests. In Yemen, they have taken over the capital city and dragged Saudi Arabia, an Iranian foe, into a costly quagmire. In Lebanon, they broadcast pro-Iranian news and build forces to fight Israel.
The allied militias are increasingly collaborating across borders. In April, members of a Qatari royal hunting party kidnapped by militants in Iraq were released as part of a deal involving Hezbollah in Syria. In southern Syria, Iranian-backed forces are pushing to connect with their counterparts in Iraq. And in the battle for Aleppo last year — a turning point in the Syrian war — Iranian-supported militants hailed from so many countries their diversity amazed even those involved. “On the front lines, there were lots of nationalities,” said Hamza Mohammed, an Iraqi militiaman who was trained by Hezbollah and fought in Aleppo. “Hezbollah was there, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis – everyone was there, with Iranian participation to lead the battle.”
The roots of that network go back to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Iran called on Hezbollah to help organize Iraqi Shiite militias that in the coming years killed hundreds of American troops and many more Iraqis. Recent wars have allowed Iran to revive and expand the web, and some of the groups Hezbollah trained in Iraq are now returning the favor by sending fighters to Syria.
More than just a political alliance, Hezbollah, whose name is Arabic for Party of God, and its allies have deep ideological ties to Iran. Most endorse vilayat-e-faqih, the concept that Iran’s supreme leader is both the highest political power in the country and the paramount religious authority. They also trumpet their goal of combating American and Israeli interests, while arguing that they fill gaps left by weak governments and fight Sunni jihadists like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Many wonder what these tens of thousands of experienced fighters will do after the wars in Syria and Iraq wind down. Hezbollah leaders have said they could be deployed in future wars against Israel…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31, 2017
Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia has branded the recent expulsion of Islamic State’s militants from their main stronghold in the country as a “great victory” akin to forcing out Israel’s occupation forces in 2000. Now the question for Lebanon and the wider region is whether Hezbollah—dedicated to the elimination of Israel and considered a terrorist organization by Washington—translates this triumph of arms into lasting political gains.
On Saturday, parallel operations by Lebanon’s army from inside Lebanon and by Hezbollah fighters advancing from Syria cleared out Islamic State’s redoubt in the mountainous Qalamoun region straddling the border. Controversially, a deal struck by Hezbollah allowed hundreds of Islamic State militants to move to the extremist group’s remaining territory in eastern Syria. The decision, which was criticized by Hezbollah’s political opponents inside Lebanon, prompted the U.S. to launch two U.S. airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday aimed at stopping the convoy carrying the fighters and their families.
Iran-backed Hezbollah lost much of its luster in the wider Middle East once it sided with the Syrian regime after the revolution there erupted in 2011. But as the increasingly bloody Syrian conflict flooded tiny Lebanon with refugees—and Sunni extremists—the group has managed to position itself as the defender of the region’s minorities, particularly Christians. That, in turn, has generated domestic support well beyond Hezbollah’s Shiite home base. Such an ability to build a broader consensus at home has provided Hezbollah, whose militia is one of the Middle East’s most formidable fighting forces, with unparalleled political sway. After a two-year delay, the group’s preferred candidate, Christian former army chief Michel Aoun, was elected as Lebanon’s president in October 2016.
Long-postponed elections for a Lebanese parliament that would name a new government are slated for May 2018, and the giant victory rally Hezbollah is slated to hold in the eastern town of Baalbek on Thursday is widely viewed as the kickoff of a campaign to broaden its power—and its alliances. Hezbollah’s achievement in Qalamoun “will be regarded not only as the growth of its military might, but also of its political influence,” said Imad Salamey, director of the Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. “This victory will add to Hezbollah’s ability to gain influence within its own Shiite community and will also strengthen its Christian allies.”
Not everyone agrees. Many Lebanese were upset with how Hezbollah unilaterally negotiated with Islamic State—an approach that seemed to undermine the authority of the Lebanese army and the Lebanese state. “Hezbollah has behaved as a parallel state,” said Basem Chabb, a Christian lawmaker and a member of the Sunni-led coalition of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri. “And now that ISIS is out of the way, even some of its Christian allies may become alarmed.” Regardless of such resentment, nobody in Lebanon today appears in a position to resist Hezbollah’s strategic choices, especially now that its status has been consolidated by the outcome of its Qalamoun campaign. “After this, opposing Hezbollah’s political will in Lebanon will be even more difficult. Hezbollah is gaining additional cards in Lebanese politics,” said Ali Abdallah Fadlallah, an expert on the group and a professor at the American University in Beirut.
One added complication is Lebanon’s relationship with Washington. President Donald Trump described Hezbollah as “a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region” during his meeting with Mr. Hariri in July, and U.S. officials are looking for ways to punish the group as part of a broader campaign to roll back Iranian influence in the region. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, meanwhile, recently praised Mr. Trump for his determination in fighting Islamic State, and for having described the militant group as a creation of the Obama administration…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Jerusalem Post, July 22, 2017
During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli military actions were limited by the broader diplomatic situation. The expulsion of Syria from Lebanon had taken place a year earlier. The government of then-prime minister Fuad Siniora in Beirut was considered one of the few successes of the US democracy promotion project in the region. As a result, pressure was placed on Israel to restrict its operations to targets directly related to Hezbollah activity alone.
Ten years is a long time. Today, the view in Israel is that the distinction between Hezbollah and the institutions and authorities of the Lebanese state has disappeared. But while the government of Lebanon is no longer a particular protégé of the US and the West, the position taken in Western capitals regarding the Lebanese state and, notably, its armed forces remains markedly different from that taken in Jerusalem. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) continues to be a major beneficiary of US aid.
This gap in perceptions reflects different primary security concerns. For Israel, altering this perception in the West before the next conflict with Hezbollah is a primary strategic task. So what are the facts of the case? One of the basic expectations of a functioning state is that it exercise a monopoly on the use of violence within its borders. From this point of view, the Lebanese state ceased to function some time ago. As the 2006 and subsequent events graphically demonstrated, Hezbollah and its patrons could operate an independent foreign and military policy without seeking the permission of the official authorities in Beirut.
What has happened in the intervening decade, however, is that Hezbollah and its allies, rather than simply ignoring the wishes of the state, have progressively absorbed its institutions. The events of May/June 2008 in Beirut finally demonstrated the impotence of “official” Lebanon in opposing the will of Hezbollah and its allies. Then, on the official political level, Hezbollah and its allies prevented the appointment of a Lebanese president for two years, before ensuring the ascendance of their own allied candidate, then-Gen. Michel Aoun, in October 2016. For good measure, the March 8 bloc of which Hezbollah is a part ensured for itself eight portfolios in the 17-person Lebanese cabinet. Of these, two are directly in the hands of Hezbollah.
So at the level of political leadership, it is no longer possible to identify where the Lebanese state begins and Hezbollah ends. And the organization has long enjoyed a de facto, physical dominance, both within Lebanon and in terms of its actions across and beyond its borders (against Israel, in its intervention in the Syrian civil war, and in its involvement with other pro-Iranian militia groups in Iraq and Yemen). What of the issue of security cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces? No serious observer of Lebanon disputes that open cooperation between the two forces has increased over the last half decade. The background to this is the threat of Sunni jihadist terrorism from Syrian Salafi groups engaged in the Syrian civil war. A series of bombings in Shi’a south Beirut and in border communities triggered the joint effort by Hezbollah and the LAF.
Of course, the bombings were taking place as retaliation by Syrian Salafi groups for Hezbollah’s own involvement in the war in Syria on the regime side. The Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah cooperated on the level of intelligence sharing and scored a number of successes in locating and apprehending Salafi cells on Lebanese soil. As a result of the increasingly overt cooperation between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia ended its military assistance to the LAF, canceling a $3 billion pledge in February 2016. The cancellation was a tacit admission of defeat by the Saudis, an acknowledgment that their project of exerting influence and power in Lebanon through their clients had failed.
The US, however, has continued its relationship with the LAF, which was the recipient of $200 million in assistance from Washington last year. Last December, the US dismissed Israeli assertions that M-113 armored vehicles displayed by Hezbollah in a triumphant parade in the town of Qusayr in Syria came from LAF stocks. The Lebanese Armed Forces, according to a statement by John Kirby, then-State Department spokesman, has an “exemplary record” in complying with US end-use guidelines and restrictions.
A statement by President Aoun in February appeared to confirm the situation of cooperation between the forces. Aoun told the Egyptian CBC channel that Hezbollah’s arms “do not contradict the state… and are an essential part of defending Lebanon. As long as the Lebanese army lacks sufficient power to face Israel, we feel the need for Hezbollah’s arsenal, because it complements the army’s role.” The difference of opinion between the US and Israel in this regard is of growing importance because of the emergent evidence of hitherto unreported Hezbollah activities. In particular, there is deep disquiet in Israel regarding revelations of an Iranian- supported, homegrown Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah.
This does not mean that war is imminent. But from an Israeli point of view, the gap in understanding and perception between Washington and Jerusalem on the Lebanese Armed Forces, and by definition on the current nature of the Lebanese state, is a matter requiring urgent attention. It is currently one of the missing pieces in the diplomatic structure which alone can make possible the kind of war that Israel will be wanting to fight next time round, should Hezbollah attack or provocation come. This is intended to be a war on a scale and dimension quite different from 2006. The intention will be to dismiss any distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state, and to wage a state-to-state war against Lebanon, on the basis that the distinction has become a fiction. This would involve an all-out use of military force that will be intended to force a relatively quick decision…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Tablet, Aug. 2, 2017
The day after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Trump at the White House, a member of his delegation saluted Hezbollah on social media from Washington. Last Wednesday, former minister and current adviser to the Lebanese president (a Hezbollah ally), Elias Bou Saab, tweeted a salute to “every resister”—a euphemism for Hezbollah fighter—and “every soldier” fighting in the outback of the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria. Later that same day, Bou Saab, who is the executive vice president of the American University in Dubai, and is widely seen in Lebanon as a sympathizer of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, posed for a picture with a journalist from the pro-Hezbollah TV channel NBN. The journalist posted the photo on her Facebook page. It shows Bou Saab and the journalist on a street in Washington, holding a placard with another salute to Hezbollah. It reads: “From the outback of Washington, a salute to the heroes in the outback of Arsal.”
Bou Saab’s boss, Hariri, was only slightly more reserved in his public alliance with the Lebanese terror army—aka “the resistance.” After his press conference with President Trump, in which the U.S. president described Hezbollah as a regional menace and long arm of Iran, the prime minister told Lebanese reporters, “We fight ISIS and al-Qaida. Hezbollah is in the government and part of parliament and we have an understanding with it.” An understanding with Hezbollah sounds about right. Hariri’s visit with Trump was part of a coordinated, multifaceted information campaign to swindle the U.S. government into continuing its military support and extending political cover for the evolving pro-Iran order in Lebanon and Syria. Everyone—Hariri, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its supporters and publicists in Washington—is in on the con. Everyone benefits—except, of course, the people who continue to suffer and die in the region.
Let’s trace back the timeline of the Hariri-Hezbollah campaign, whose primary aim was apparently to game Donald Trump and his generals. At the end of June, the LAF raided a Syrian refugee camp in the Arsal region in northeastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. The raid was accompanied by a large, coordinated PR effort to whip up patriotic fervor, in which Syrian refugees were used as props. A few days later, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah emerged with a televised address in which he announced the imminent start of the battle around Arsal. A few days after that, military operations begin, with Hezbollah receiving air support from the Assad regime on the Syrian side and artillery support from the LAF on the Lebanese side, demonstrating the high level of coordination between these two forces, which are fast becoming one under Iranian leadership. The timing of this operation—or demonstration—was hardly accidental, either: Hariri was making his pitch in Washington for continued support to Lebanon and the LAF, and for watering down U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah.
The second act of the Lebanese con game began while the Hariri delegation was still in Washington. The Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, a close Hezbollah ally who accompanied Hariri, tweeted the LAF’s next move from Washington: Attack the second pocket held by a so-called ISIS affiliate outside Ras Baalbeck, north of Arsal. In an interview in Washington, Hariri explained how, “the army is going to take over the whole thing, and Hezbollah is going to withdraw, because the fighting is going to continue with ISIS, and we believe this is the real battle.” In other words, Washington was supposed to see that, Hezbollah’s joint operation with the LAF in Arsal notwithstanding, ISIS is the real enemy—and it’s the LAF that will handle this next, crucial battle. The LAF should, therefore, receive more U.S. money and weapons, regardless of its political obedience to a terrorist group with the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands.
By the time Hariri’s interview came out, the brief operation in Arsal had already ended—with a negotiated settlement with the group formerly known as the Nusra Front. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, a Hezbollah ally who heads Lebanon’s General Security, handled the negotiations. The Nusra fighters received safe passage out of the area to Idlib province and exchanged prisoners and bodies with Hezbollah. That Hezbollah’s show focused only on the Nusra pocket near Arsal and avoided the second, ISIS-held pocket farther north was by design. The strategy here was not directed at either of these groups, but at Washington. The Nusra pocket had been involved in these negotiations for a while, but Hezbollah forced the issue—early in the operation, a mediator, a local municipal official from Arsal, was targeted in his car and killed, with some accusing Hezbollah of the murder—at this precise moment, in order to set up a binary choice for Hariri to present in Washington: the LAF vs. ISIS.
No sooner had Hariri wrapped up his visit than the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington put out a report on why, because of this supposed looming battle with ISIS, the United States should continue, even increase, its support for the LAF. Tying a neat ribbon on the Lebanese information campaign, the report, written by a promoter of the pro-LAF policy who works closely with the LAF command, completed Hariri’s pitch: Supporting the LAF is not just necessary because the LAF will soon fight ISIS, but also because Hezbollah otherwise would win the so-called battle of narratives with the Lebanese state, which it, in fact, controls. It’s a spectacular con…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Victory for Israel in the Security Council: Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva, Aug. 30, 2017— Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, on Wednesday welcomed the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution regarding the mandate of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Why Did Syria, Hezbollah Bus ISIS Fighters Near Iraq?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 30, 2017— In 2009, before the Syrian civil war, a bus ride from Homs to Deir al-Zor on the Euphrates River would take around five or six hours. There was a stop for refreshments just outside of the historic city of Palmyra. Now fighters from Islamic State are taking that bus route.
The Low-Profile War Between Israel and Hezbollah: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Aug. 31, 2017— In defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon war, Hezbollah and its Iranian patron, with the assistance of the Bashar Assad regime, are filling Lebanon with surface-to-surface projectiles, and aiming them at population centers and strategic sites in Israel.
The Next War Against Hezbollah: Strategic and Operational Considerations: Udi Dekel and Assaf Orion, INSS, 2017— The IDF does not hide the fact that it is preparing for war in Lebanon. These preparations take the form of learning and applying the lessons of the Second Lebanon War while incorporating the modifications required in light of changes in the region’s strategic reality, especially in Israel’s northern theater.