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Israel-Daesh clash is tip of iceberg

    This week's unprecedented clash between the IDF and Daesh, which left four jihadis dead after they fired rockets from the Golan at an army patrol, signals a dramatic escalation between Israel and the terror outfit.

    But arguably more consequential in the long-term for the Jewish state was a simultaneous advance by the Syrian army into Sunni rebel-held districts of Aleppo. The operation was achieved, as with previous successful Syrian regime offensives, with significant ground support from Hizbollah fighters.

    Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is edging closer to total victory, and battle-hardened Hizbollah is seizing the moment to forge closer ties with the region's new power broker and Syria ally, Russia. Meanwhile, the Shia force has been reinforcing historic ties with Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, which has also sent thousands of fighters to Syria.

    As payback for unstinting loyalty and sacrifice on the battlefield, Hizbollah is now being armed with renewed vengeance by both the Syrian and Iranian governments, just as it solidifies its new role as Lebanon's main political party.

    Last week, for instance, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, warned the UN Security Council that Tehran was now brazenly transporting arms and ammunition to the group on civilian flights.

    Mr Putin could turn on Hizbollah without risking blowback

    As if to ram home the point, on Wednesday the Israeli Air Force took out a convoy travelling along the Damascus-Beirut highway, laden with weapons bound for Hizbollah.

    Meanwhile, the Lebanese-based website Al-Akhbar, which is sympathetic to Hizbollah, claimed that the group's commanders held an official meeting with Russian military leaders in Aleppo - their first since Moscow entered the Syrian civil war.

    Israel's warning some months ago that the next war with Hizbollah will be far more ferocious than the 2006 conflict is beginning to sound like an understatement.

    Since then, Hizbollah has also staged an impressive military parade near the Lebanese border in the Syrian town of Qusair, where the group has a number of military bases and outposts.

    There it showed off not only newly-acquired, Russian-made military hardware - including armoured personnel carriers and tanks - but also US-supplied weapons, which, astonishingly, appear to have fallen into the group's hands.

    Small wonder the intelligence group Stratfor now calls Hizbollah "the best-equipped non-state fighting force in the world".

    With US President-elect Donald Trump set to end military funding and diplomatic support for the Sunni rebels in Syria, it may appear that Israel can do little but prepare for future conflict.

    Israel, though, might just offer Mr Trump a way out of the Syrian quagmire in a way that also serves its own ends.

    And it could do so by encouraging him to pressure Moscow to abandon Hizbollah, with the prize of offering tacit American backing for Vladimir Putin's power-grab in the Middle East.

    Notwithstanding the antisemitism that suffused his electoral campaign, Mr Trump himself is unequivocally pro-Israel while also contemptuous of the Iranian regime. And, crucially, he has to square the following circle: bringing Russia back into the fold and accepting Assad as the legitimate Syrian leader, while remaining loyal to Israel and pressuring Iran over its alleged nuclear programme. That Mr Putin has allowed Israel to attack Hizbollah positions in Syria during the civil war strongly suggests he considers the group expendible.

    He could certainly turn on Hizbollah without risking serious blowback from either Syria or Iran, which need him on the international stage far more than he needs them.

    And post-civil war, Assad himself will be eager to ensure Hizbollah does not set up a state within a state inside Syria's borders.

    Such a deal, which would involve Moscow pressuring Syria and Iran to stop funding and arming Hizbollah, would give Mr Trump something to sell to the American public while reducing the possibility of the group instigating what would surely be the deadliest conflict the region has witnessed for decades.

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