The Beating Drums of War :: By Matt Ward

On Thursday last week, a huge explosion ripped through a military base, located just outside the Syrian capital, Damascus. It was a brazen attack carried out by Israel against an enemy that is already deeply entrenched inside Syria. The target, believed to be an arms depot operated by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, was almost completely destroyed. This military base was believed to contain substantial amounts of Iranian weaponry, due to be transferred directly to Hezbollah, likely for use against Israel.

Without explicitly admitting responsibility for the strike, Israel Katz, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Israeli Army Radio that, “I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah.”

Katz continued, “The prime minister has said that whenever we receive intelligence that indicated an intention to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, we will act.” [1]

This current strike follows on the heels of an Israeli attack just last month, when several strikes near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra targeted what were also believed to be “advanced weapons systems,” belonging to Hezbollah.

The last time Israel attacked targets based within Syria, Bashir Assad tried to retaliate by launching several ground to air missiles, a number of which managed to penetrate Israeli airspace. The world awaits his reaction, if there is one, this time.

Israel took this action because they are growing increasingly worried that Hezbollah are gaining in strength, and that the Lebanese group are proactively preparing for an imminent confrontation with the Jewish state. Several recent indicators suggest a climactic war may be just around the corner. The drums of a third Lebanon war are already beating loudly.

Officials on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border are actively anticipating a third Lebanon War. It would be no exaggeration to say that at this point both Israel and Hezbollah already believe they are in a state war with each other; it just hasn’t been admitted or declared yet. Additionally, both sides are jockeying for position, taking every opportunity to improve their strategic position ahead of a war they both know is coming.

This next war, when it arrives, will be different from the first or second Lebanon wars. Unlike previously, the next war in Lebanon will be a real doomsday situation for both Israel and Hezbollah. Israel simply cannot afford to lose the next fixed conflict it fights in, as it did in the 34-day Lebanon war of 2006, when Israel was supposed to annihilate the Iran-backed “party of God,” Hezbollah. It didn’t quite work out that way and many today describe this war as a disaster for Israel, even though they didn’t actually lose it in any definable way.

This time around there is simply too much at stake. With IS on its border, with Iran and Russia swamping Syria with men, military hardware and advanced weaponry, and the eyes of an increasingly anti-Semitic world watching closely, the Jewish state cannot under any circumstance afford to look weak. It cannot allow itself to look in any way “defeat-able.”

The political stakes are equally as high. After the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, then-Prime Minister Golda Meir was forced to step down – not because she lost the war but because she did not win it. In 2009, Ehud Olmert also resigned, not for defeat but again, for not winning the Lebanon war of 2006. There will be no turning back and no hesitation from current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once this shadow war comes out into the cold, hard light of day. It really will be an “all or nothing” type of situation.

Yet this next war will also be a battle of survival for Hezbollah too. Loose and they will likely be finished, and so too will be Iran’s influence in the Arab world. Both sides cannot afford to lose, or even look like they have lost. This is why military planners from both sides are openly declaring that when this next conflict does come, it will be a brutal one, with no quarter given by either side.

Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief, has long been shouting about how ready he is for this next round of conflict, declaring that when it begins, his troops will be on the offensive against Israel, capable of raining long-range missiles down on Israeli cities and marching deep into the Israeli heartland, perhaps even occupying settlements and towns.

A climactic war is on the horizon for Israel and Hezbollah. The indicators of this future conflict abound. In mid-April, Israel announced it had successfully layered its airspace with the most sophisticated anti-missile tripartite defense system ever developed.

The U.S. made Arrow defensive system will, Israel believes, handle all long range Iranian missiles, whilst Israeli made David’s Sling will deal with all shorter range projectiles, leaving Iron Dome to intercept all rockets and drone cross border attacks. This is the theory at any rate. Wars, unfortunately, rarely work out so neatly in their execution. The cold, hard reality will likely be that Israel, and all its advanced and sophisticated defensive counter measures, will be utterly swamped by the sheer volume of missiles and rockets fired at it.

Meanwhile in Syria, a combined Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah force has just begun a large offensive aimed at occupying the border area directly adjacent to Israel, southwest of Damascus. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Defense Minister, has stated bluntly, “Israel will not allow the concentration of Iranian and Hezbollah forces on its Golan border.” [2]

Yet occupying the Israeli Golan border is the specific intention of this Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah force. They are clearly trying to establish a platform from which they can launch a future multi-front war against Israel.

In Israel, mass military drills have been conducted and border fortifications have been dug. Electronic surveillance and counter measures along the Lebanese border area have been prepared and plans for the mass evacuation of entire Israeli border communities have been drawn up and practiced in real time, in the real world.

War is coming once again to Israel, and soon. The consistent targeting and striking of Hezbollah assets held deep within Syria are an indicator of it, and also of Israel’s utter determination to deny and destroy all advanced weapons systems transfers to Hezbollah, even at the very real risk of stirring up substantial Russian animosity against them.

In this next war, a further complicating factor is that Israel also know that they are unlikely to be facing Hezbollah alone. After all its service to the Syrian regime since the beginning of the civil war in 2012, after all its sacrificed soldiers and men, Hezbollah  will no doubt be expecting some form of reciprocation from Damascus, against Israel. Equally, Iran—a long time backer of Hezbollah, is also expected to throw its hat in the ring against the Jewish state when war becomes a reality.

All of this, of course, leads to one other serious question; what would America under Donald Trump do in such a circumstance? Certainly the United States would expect Syria, Russia and Iran to stay neutral, something Iran and Syria almost certainly would not do.

How would this make America react? The one certainty in the Middle East right now is that the nature of U.S.-Israeli relations under this new administration have changed. Trump has made it abundantly clear, as had Vice President Pence and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, that they will stand shoulder to shoulder and back to back with Israel against all comers. All comers. While comforting for those of us who hold Israel dear, nevertheless this raises the uncomfortable specter of a wider conflagration in the Middle East, should Israel and Hezbollah slide into a violent and potentially very messy war.

Already there are just too many competing, separate militaries operating over the skies of Syria; it is truly remarkable that there has not been a much more significant crisis up until this point. Yet a war between Israel and Hezbollah has the potential to further trigger just such a series of confrontations and standoffs. If that does happen, all bets would be off as to the outcome.

The stakes in the Middle East have never been higher, nor has the region looked so volatile. The situation between Hezbollah and Israel is becoming more antagonistic by the day. The pertinent question every thinking person should be asking right now is at what point will Israel deem it absolutely, and finally necessary to move against Hezbollah?

It is clear that Israel views Hezbollah as an existential threat against its existence; the status quo, as it currently stands, will not last, and a wider Middle Eastern chaos will likely follow in its wake. The Middle East today is a tinder box which is already alight. It may well soon explode before our eyes.