Regional tensions mount over Iran, Hezbollah activities

Iran is under increasing international pressure over its airlift of weapons to proxies in three Middle Eastern war zones.

Ratcheting up tensions. A file picture shows two Hezbollah fighters patrolling a hill on the Lebanese side of the Qalamun mountains on the border with Syria. (AP)

2017/04/30 Issue: 104 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- Israeli air strikes on suspected Hezbollah arms depots near Damascus International Air­port on April 27 have escalated tensions at a time when Iran is under increasing international pres­sure over its airlift of weapons to proxies in three Middle Eastern war zones, including Syria where the Tehran-backed movement is a key ally of President Bashar Assad.

Israel’s pre-emptive attacks against Hezbollah depots and con­voys in Syria have become much more frequent, in apparent re­sponse to an increased flow of ad­vanced weapons from Iran.

This underlines perceived efforts by the Islamic Republic to establish a permanent military presence in the flashpoint Golan Heights, a stra­tegic volcanic plateau in southern Syria, from which to threaten the Jewish state.

There is evidence that Hezbollah, at Iran’s instigation, has construct­ed missile bases and other fortifi­cations on the Golan, two-thirds of which Israel seized in the 1967 Mid­dle East War and annexed in 1981. This fuels regional fears that a new Israel-Hezbollah war is looming.

Israel claims the Party of God has amassed more than 100,000 mis­siles and rockets, provided by Iran via Syria, since an inconclusive 34-day war between them in 2006. That conflict was notable for Hez­bollah’s first use of mass rocket at­tacks on Israel.

Another concern is how the Unit­ed States would respond, given the deep distrust of Iran by the ad­ministration of US President Don­ald Trump. The United States un­leashed a barrage of cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase on April 7 fol­lowing a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Damascus regime.

US efforts to penalise Iran for its illegal arms shipments and ballistic missile tests could intensify the re­gional turmoil.

Unusually, Israel effectively claimed responsibility for the April 27 strikes. Intelligence Minister Yis­rael Katz told Israel’s Army Radio that “the incident in Syria com­pletely conforms to Israel’s policy, to act so as to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran.”

Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher ob­served on March 16: “Israel’s next big war is almost certainly going to pit it against some combination of Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah forc­es along its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon” and “could be closer to the kind of all-out war that the Jewish state hasn’t fought since 1973.”

Israeli intelligence specialist Yossi Melman said on April 2 that the Jew­ish state is “increasingly acting in the military and political sphere to refine the power balance in Syria” amid clear signs that Iran and Hez­bollah are seeking to establish a new front against Israel in the Golan.

“Israeli decision-makers… know very well that a new era — in which the shape of a future Syria will be determined — is imminent,” Mel­man wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

“Israel fears that when Assad again consolidates his grip on pow­er it will lead to the deployment of Iranian, Hezbollah or other [Shia] militias along the Golan Heights border,” Melman noted.

“The keys to an agreement are in Moscow, which explains why Net­anyahu has met with Russian Presi­dent Vladimir Putin five times in the last year-and-a-half and spoken by phone with him at least two dozen times.”

“The keys to an agreement are in Moscow, which explains why Net­anyahu has met with Russian Presi­dent Vladimir Putin five times in the last year-and-a-half and spoken by phone with him at least two dozen times.”

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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