By Ali Rizk
In August 2013 Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon said the following to visiting US joint chief of staff Martin Dempsey:
“We must also be prepared for a long conflict and instability in Syria. We cannot let the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis of evil to win this fight”.
Over a year has passed since then, and it seems like Yaalons worse fears are coming true. It is against this backdrop that one should view the latest Israeli airstrike in the Golan Heights targeting Hezbollah members and a general in the Iranian revolutionary guards.
The comments made by Hezbollah’s secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during his interview with the pan Arab Al-Mayadeen television, and the Israeli comments which lent credibility to his statements, revealed that the “axis of evil” Yaalon had referred to, has indeed come out on top in Syria. Sayyed Hassan spoke about Hezbollah possessing all kinds of weapons the enemy “could and could not imagine”, warning Israel at the same time that the movement would launch an offensive on Israeli turf in any future war which could reach “beyond the Galilee”. Coinciding with these remarks, outgoing head of Israeli military intelligence Itai Brun predicted that “next time we will see Hezbollah forces on Israeli soil” and that Hezbollah planned to launch 1000 missiles at the Israeli home front during this “next time”.
Another major point made by the Hezbollah chief which has not received much attention was his revelation of having information that the US administration has abandoned its precondition of Assad stepping down in order for a political solution to be reached. This point also appears to be reinforced by the course of American military action in Syria, which has been limited to targeting (albeit limited targeting) of Takfiri militants without any strikes on Syrian government targets.
Therefore after almost four years since the beginning of the Syrian crisis it does indeed appear that the “Tehran- Damascus- Beirut axis” is on its way to securing victory in Syria. Not only has Hezbollah not been weakened, but it has greatly enhanced its offensive capabilities as a result of its participation in the fight in Syria. “The fall of Assad” scenario, which Israel had been hoping for from the beginning has not taken place. Not just that, but Iran and Hezbollah now command much more influence in Syria, which is directly the opposite of what Israel had hoped for. A new “front” against Israel – the Golan Heights- was also declared open for business by president Bashar Assad in May 2013.
Indeed many have said that the Israeli strike targeted important military personnel who had a prominent planning role on the Golan Heights front. (Contrary to what many have said, the presence of Hezbollah fighters in this location does not contradict what Sayyed Hassan said in his interview with Al-Mayadeen about no Hezbollah presence- as he was referring to presence as a fighting force and not as an advisory role.)
But at the same time the strike could be the beginning of a new Israeli escalatory strategy in Syria after a failure of the previous Israeli strategy. Israel had previously launched attacks on Syria, but the latest was more of an assassination operation by military means. Recall also that Israel was the first to accuse Assad of using chemical weapons in April 2013,(outgoing head of Israeli military intelligence Itai Brun) after president Obama had declared such a development as “a game changer”.
The pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, strongly lobbied Congress to authorize military action against Syria after Obama referred the matter to congress following the chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, (the attack now appears to have been conducted by the armed opposition), but these lobbying efforts were unsuccessful. It is important to point out here to the recent article published by the pro-Israeli der-Spiegel magazine (the same Magazine that broke the alleged story of Hezbollah assassinating former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri) regarding Syria building a secret nuclear facility near the Lebanese border area. This issue went largely unnoticed in the West, much to the chagrin of Israel.
Hence Israel is clearly changing and escalating its strategy visa vi the “Tehran- Damasucs- Beirut axis” in Syria, as the strategy of limited airstrikes and pressuring Western powers has proven its futility. Israel cannot afford for this axis to achieve victory in Syria and can therefore not afford a political solution that keeps Assad in power, which is something many are now saying is the only acceptable option. But the question is will Israel’s escalated strategy be any more successful than its earlier strategy?
One thing is for sure: the battle will intensify in Syria and particularly on the Golan Heights front between the “Tehran Beirut Damascus axis” and Israel.