The framework of the clash on the borders between Israel, the Lebanon and Syria is currently much more complicated than it appears.
Recently, namely in mid-January, a senior officer of the Israeli Defence Forces has publicly announced that Iran is organizing a peripheral command in the Lebanon, precisely in the Southern area – a region traditionally controlled by Hezbollah and now by most of the Lebanese regular army, which is traditionally funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The Lebanese Armed Forces are backed by the United States to the tune of over 1.5 billion dollars, but also by Saudi Arabia (3.5 billion US dollars), which operates also with funding for security, intelligence andterritorial police.
Iran will grant additional funds to the Lebanese forces with a view to creating a stable link between Iran and the Mediterranean coast, which is also one of the grand strategy targets of the Shiite leadership in the Syrian war.
This will certainly change the Saudi and US attitude towards the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The Iranian strategic goals are designed to avoid being conditioned by Hezbollah’s tactical interests.
Said interests are not only against Israel. The excess of Iranian efforts and resources for the Lebanon and the clash with the “Zionist entity” – as they call Israel – does not absorb all Iranian strategic goals.
Iran wants to gain hegemony in a region stretching from the Lebanese Mediterranean coast to the Shiite areas of Afghanistan.
Nevertheless Iran’s operations in Syria are designed to creating the conditions for a simultaneous dual attack on Israel, starting from the Golan Heights and the Litani area, with or even without the “Party of God”of the Lebanese Shiites.
Suffice they avoid the anti-Iranian actions within the Lebanese State.
Hence the air clash, which occurred in Syria and in Israel on February 10, resulted in the loss of an Israeli F-16C aircraft belonging to the 110th Squadron, which had taken off from the Ramat David base. It also led to the loss of an F-15I aircraft hit, but not destroyed, by Bashar al-Assad’s air defence and damaged some jets hit by the Syrian anti-aircraft, as well as an Israeli helicopter hit in the skies of the Shebaa Farms. Finally an Iranian-made attack drone was shot down.
Obviously the Israeli pilots had received the explicit order of avoiding any Russian jetsand the Israeli government is extremely careful not to hurt the feelings and undermine the strategic sensitivity of Russia, the new global leader in the Middle East.
Israel’s aircrafts were aSufaF-16I and aBaaz F-15I.
The air defences of Assad and the Syrian Arab Army have also the Russian long-range S-125 and S-200 systems available.
The S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3 GOA) is an old design missile with a range of 25 kilometres which, when modified – as happened during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s – can hit aircraft capable of reaching very high speed at various altitudes.
Conversely, the S-200 (NATO reporting name SA-5 Gammon) is a long-range missile (200-350 kilometres), but both types of Russian surface-to-air missiles are semi-automatically driven. Currently most batteries are equipped with systems for Airborne Early Warning and Control Defence (AEW).
The speed of both surface-to-air systems is still considerable.
It is therefore evident that, since the Russian Intelligence Services control both the single launching batteries of surface-to-air missiles and all the e-control networks of the Syrian, South Turkish, Lebanese and North Israeli space, Russia has given the green light for actions against the Israeli aircrafts and helicopters.
Hence it has decided – or possibly accepted others’ decision – to hit the Jewish aircrafts.
What is Israel’s and the other regional and global players’ strategic rationale in Syria?
The shooting down of the Israeli aircraft is a factor not to be neglected both tactically and geopolitically.
Two aircrafts lost are certainly a problem, but not an unresolvable one.
This is an operational and strategic factor to be studied carefully, a probable game-changer in the whole Syrian-Lebanese system.
Based on an initial assessment of facts, Israel lost air superiority in the Lebanese-Syrian region just when the Russian Federation sold or transferred to Bashar al-Assad’Syria a system of S-400 surface-to-air missiles at the end of November 2015.
The S-400 Triumph (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler), with a maximum range of 400 kilometres, can launch its missiles at a speed of 4.8 kilometres per second and can detect up to 36 or even 80 targets simultaneously – hence it is hard to be saturated.
It is also a weapon system that has already been sold to China in 2014 and to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
Hence considering its full and unrestricted control over the Syrian airspace and Syria’s broad strategic region, evidently Russia has de factoendorsed the Israeli raids on targets located both in Syrian areas and in the Lebanon.
The Israeli raids are already significant.
Let us think about the Israeli air attack in early September 2017, with an operation in Masyaf, Western Syria – a mission carried out by Israel shortly after the United Nationshad accused Bashar al-Assad’s government of the chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheykhoun, which had taken place in April 2017.
At the time, both the Russians and the Syrians of Assad’s government had reassured the United Nations and the other players that no one had ever used forbidden weapons.
However, those who were poisoned and unable to breathe were still in hospitals, so as to demonstrate the opposite of what had officially been declared by the Syrian-Russian military connection.
The ease with which the Syrian allies put Russia in difficultiesvis-à-vis the West and the other global powers is a burden for it.
Hence what did Israel want and what does it want to demonstrate with these raids, the last of which was unsuccessful for “David’ slingshot”?
Firstly, it wants to make it clear to all regional players that the “red line” between the territory of the Jewish State and the territory of the Syrian-Lebanese State is still fully in force.
Secondly – but this is a strategically primary issue – Israel wants to show how dangerous it is for Iran to try and build its new forward bases in the border area between the Golan Heights and the Litani River in the Lebanon. Finally, Israel wants to ever more perfect its air attacks to avoid or postpone a ground attack.
The technologies for air attacks have already been largely developed.
As far as we know, they would be a mix of micro-intelligence on the ground and of new remotely-controlled, but high-precision weapons, as well as a new distribution of defence systems, built and deployed on the ground in such a way as to hit several thousand targets within one hour at most.
Certainly, in all likelihood, there is a new Iranian base south of Damascus.
A station mainly equipped with air forces, but fully managed and controlled by the Al Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, with the high probability of adding submarines in the coastal areas controlled by Hezbollah in the Lebanon.
Hence either a scenario of attack on Israel from a unified front in the North, between Syria, Golan and the Lebanese Litani area, or another even more dangerous scenario for Israel, in which the Jewish State would be attacked from the North and the South at the same time.
The first attack would take place according to the model already tested by Hezbollah in 2006, and also in 2004, but this time together with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The second attack could take place when movements modelled on Hezbollah will be active and dangerous also in the Palestinian area east and south of Jerusalem, like the recently-established Al Sabiroun in the Gaza Strip.
Also the Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian organization founded in Gaza in 1979 from a previous network of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been based with its leaders in Damascus since 1988.
Currently, however, Iran’s funding is scarce for this Sunni organization that, since the very beginning, accepted and supported the 1979 Ayatollah Revolution, as also Yasser Arafat did.
It is always worth remembering it.
Indeed, there isclose continuity between the “secular” and Marxist Palestinian uprising, which is still very much liked by the EU finest spirits, and the “radical” jihadist and Islamist twist that,for the amateurs of Middle East politics, appears to be a novelty with respect to the para-Soviet model of Yasser Arafat’s PLO and its many internal groups.
Iran’s relations with HAMAS are rhapsodic, precisely considering the close link – strengthened from 2011 onwards – between this Palestinian military structure, which also originated from a cell of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia.
In all likelihood, however, the timing of the combined attack from the South will be connected to the development and military preparation of Al Sabiroon, which shall be at least equal to Hezbollah’s.
According to some sources, however, Iran has already long arranged as many as 70,000 missiles in Syria, all targeted or targetable to Israel.
The Al Quds Force has also already deployed 5,000 soldiers in the area around Damascus and about 50 kilometres from the border with Israel.
Then there are the Shiite military groups, who often approach the border with Israel and sometimes cross it.
Furthermore, in Syria, Iran arms and trains Shiite battalions from the various regions of that country, such as Al Baqr and the Battalion 313.
The latter Syrian Shiite unit reminds of the number of Muhammad’s fighters in the Battle of Al-Badr, but it is actually called “The Great Apostle’s Brigade”, while it is worth recalling that the number 313 also regards the esoteric eschatology connected to the final coming of the Mahdi, He who will put an end to the world.
According to our sources, the Brigade 313 is still in the region of Homs where jihadists still operate in its Southern area.
Currently, however, the number of brigades or battalions of Syrian-origin Shiite militants, all trained by the Pasdaran, is equal to five units, all located between Central and Southern Syria and all with autonomous commands, but actually directed by Iranian officials of the Al Quds Force.
The operations of camouflage and strategic deception of the many Iranian missiles were all directly authorized by Bashar al-Assad and conducted by Iran and Hezbollah with the active support of the Syrian Arab Army.
Again according to said sources, within a year from now, the number of small or large missiles is expected to reach over 500,000 (according to Iranian and Lebanese programmers).
A saturation of airspace that, according to Iran experts, is supposed to block the reactions of the Israeli’s space protection system.
During the Israeli State visit to Russia of January 29, 2018,Netanyahu officially asked Vladimir Putin to containIran’s anti-Israeli operations in Syria.
It is also very likely that the Israeli leader provided to Vladimir Putin also a good amount of intelligence on the Iranian threat to the Jewish State from within Syria.
Furthermore, the strategic divergence between Russia and Iran on the Syrian territory is already quite evident and essentially unresolvable, considering the current situation on the ground.
But certainly Russia has no interest in creating further tension with Israel.
Hence probably the Russian authorization for the Syrian (and possibly Iranian) anti-aircraft operations is the last act of a sequence of strategic signals between Russia and the United States on the Syrian issue.
In fact, while it is true that Iran is absolutely essential in Syria for the Russian Federation, with a view to avoidingRussia’s too heavy engagement in favour of Assad, certainly Russia does not want to create a political and strategic system in which Bashar al-Assad is subjected solely to Iran’s will.
Once finished the clashes on the ground, Russia will redesign the Syrian map, thus preventing the country from splitting – also implicitly and subtly – into various regions, all with a different padrinage.
Russia does not certainly want to guarantee to Iran a Shiite context going from Iraq to Syria, so as to arrive without interruption up to the Mediterranean coast.
Moreover Russia wants the strengthening and final success of the Astana talks – a decompression system of the Syrian conflict inevitably involving two other players besides Russia, namely Iran and Turkey.
Turkey against Iran, despite the recent good relations between the two countries sanctioned by the meeting held in early October 2017.
A visit which significantly took place while the Saudi leadership was paying an official visit to Russia.
Hence, from now on, the Russian Federation will play Turkey against Iran and viceversa, so as to avoid losing the role of main actor in Syria and, at least for the time being, in the rest of the Middle East.
Yet good relations between Russia and Israel are still needed.
Hence this is the reason why, on the one hand, Bashar al- Assad is ever less interested in supporting Iran’s post-war ambitions and he does not directly operate – at least for the time being – against the Turkish forces that entered Idlib.
This happens while Syria operates – now explicitly – in favour of the Kurds, traditionally fought by Turkey and currently de factoabandoned by the United States.
However, we have just been informed of a new agreement between the United States and the Kurdish leadership in Syria.
Besides Russia, Tukey and Syria have every interest in preventing the Kurds from changing the complex ethnic composition of the areas under their control – but here the only possible broker and mediator is the Russian Federation.
And this is also a primary Israeli strategic interest.
Moreover, all Syrian richest oil and water areas are now under the direct control of the Kurdish YPD, which will create further conditions for Russian mediation.
This happens while the United States is now ambiguously avoiding supporting the Kurds, whom it has armed and trained so far.
Moreover, currently the United States has problematic relations also with Turkey, which has never appreciated the US strategic double standard in Syria.
But today, after Putin’s phone call to Netanyahu on October 18, 2017- designed to avoiding military climax in Syria and particularly to protecting his forces, distributed throughout the Iranian and Hezbollah networks – we need to look at some other variables of this complex equation.
Israel’s operations could also hit the Russian base of Tiyas, i.e. the T4 near Palmira, the base from which the Iranian drone – copied from an old US drone lost by the Americans many years ago – is supposed to have left.
The base currently hosts four air squadrons.
In other words, Russia’s message to Israel is simply the following: dear Israeli friends, accept the new Russian hegemony over Syria and the Middle East and nothing will happen to you – neither by Irannor by others.
The Russian message, however, also entails as follows: Israel should stop putting the lives and operations of the Russian soldiers present in the region in severe danger.
It should also stop putting the Russian forces in difficulties in their relations with the Iranian and Syrian forces that could put Russia in trouble precisely because of its friendship with Israel.
Israel cannot do without the alliance with the Russian Federation, while Russia cannot forget the number and importance of the Russian Jews who emigrated to the Jewish State.
It cannot forget how close the Russian-Israeli cooperation is in the technological, military, intelligence and cultural sectors.
For Israel the Russian military presence in Syria represents two strategic variables: on the one hand, it avoids the clash in the Golan Heights – and also in Lebanon, considering the tested system of terrestrial passage into Syria between Iran and the Lebanon -being massively targeted to Israel, that is not at all a Russian enemy.
On the other hand, the Russian military presence in Syria prevents the Jewish State from striking – surgically or not – the Iranian and Hezbollah forces operating on the ground.
Furthermore, Russia knows all too well that – by reaction – the operations in Syria have created a strong Sunni alliance, signed early June last with the exclusion of Qatar.
Israel hasnow excellent, but confidential relations with the new Sunni political universe.
Finally Russia has no intention of breaking all ties with the world dominated by Saudi Arabia and by the other Gulf powers because of their alliance with Iran in Syria.
Too much business is already underway, but above all what is at stake is Russia’ strategic wisdom in proposing itself as a global broker and mediator for the Middle East region, without ever forgetting anyone.
Moreover, the Russian Federation is well aware that, without Hezbollah’s and Iran’ support, it could certainly not have afforded a solitary war against ISIS and its allies in Syria – terrorists and Caliphate’s jihadists also backed by many Western powers and their Middle East points of reference, as Putin correctly stated in October 2015.
Thanks to its new dominance in Syria, the Russian Federation also wants to achieve a project of strong relations with the United States, thus re-establishing a new “strategic parity” with it.
It is precisely through the war in Syria that Russia wants to get out of its old post-1989 role of “regional power” in order to be once again a global player.
But how can it reach this goal without Israel’s regional support?
It is worth recalling, however, that Iran is absolutely necessary for the Russian Federation both for the creation of the Eurasian bloc – the future central axis of Putin’s geopolitics – and also for the essential oil connection between Russia and Iran.
Last August there were also secret contacts between Israel, Russia and the United States in Amman.
Jordan and the Jewish State pointed out – especially to Russia – that the “de-escalation zones”,envisaged in the Astana agreements and later reaffirmed by the Geneva Peace Conference, had apositioning that would enable the Iranian and Hezbollah forces to attack the Israeli positions, and obviously the Jordanian ones, more easily.
It is worth recalling that the “de-escalation zones” in Syria are the following : 1) the Idlib province, as well as the Northeastern areas of Latakia province, Western areas of Aleppo and Northern areas of Hama; 2) the Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in Northern Homsprovince; 3) Eastern Ghouta in the Northern Damascus countryside; 4) the rebel-controlled South along the border with Jordan that includes parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces.
Again in that secret meeting Jordan and Israeli added that it would be preferable for them to have Russia’s direct control over the border between Syria and Jordan.
Russia and the United States – this time united – only wanted to reach, as soon as possible, an agreement on the cease-fire in Southern Syria, unavoidable to successfully attack the areas still held by Daesh-Isis.
This was the strategic sense of the Amman meeting.
At that time Israel also asked – but only to the Russian Federation – to create an area of at least 20 kilometres away from the Israeli border with Syria completely devoid of Iranian or Hezbollah positions.
There was also the possibility that Israel would ask Russia and the United States to expel all Iran’s and its allies’ forces from Syria.
Obviously this is inconceivable. Neither of the two major global players, namely Russia and the United States, is interested in expelling Iran from Syria.
Russia cannot do without it, as we have already seen.
The United States, however, has no intention of being directly involved in the Syrian chaos, with many boots on the ground, since it rather prefers a military and geopolitical balance between its various client groups.
Furthermore, the visit paid by the Russian Defence Minister, Shoigu,to Israel in mid-October 2017 has not solved the primary issue, i.e. the excessive presence of Iranian weapons and soldiers – or connected to Iran – near the Golan Heights border.
In fact, Israel saw the emergence of ISIS in Syria as an excellent opportunity to overthrow Bashar al-Assad – an enemy if considered on his own and also Iran’s loyal supporter.
Netanyahu, however, reiterated to Minister Shoigu the concept we have already mentioned, i.e. that the de-escalation zones do not guarantee at all the absence of Shiite militias on the Syrian-Israeli border.
Probably they favour their transfer to the Golan Heights and to the Lebanon.
A possible solution is that, after destroying the last Isis-Daesh pockets of resistance, Russia is really ending its operations in Syria.
This will soon imply also the withdrawal of Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the other Shiite militias.
A return back home that, according to our sources, will be controlled by the Russian Federation and by other regional and global players – none of them particularly interested in favouring Iran.
Hence if Israel persuades the Russian Federation to carry out a parallel credibleand geographically verifiable withdrawal from Syria – also of the Iranian and pro-Iranian forces – the tension on borders, but also the line of direct connection between Iran and the Lebanon could be interrupted or damaged.
But certainly the Jewish State cannot fail to keep on monitoring its borders carefully. It will check with other actions, but not necessarily with the air force, Russia’s willingness to defend Iranian positions to the bitter end.
Iran in Iraq
It is exactly the withdrawal of the 2,000 US soldiers from their current positions in Syria and Jordan – an operation that continues at considerable speed – which is creating significant strategic space for Iran.
President Trump also claims he wants to keep an indefinite amount of US soldiers in Iraq, just to control Iranian movements and developments towards the Syrian border with Iraq.
Hence it is quite probable that, in the near future, the already evident tensions between Hezbollah and Israel on the Bekaa-Golan border could explode. In this case, the clash could certainly involve also the Iranian forces, as well as Bashar al-Assad’s ones and even other Sunni and Lebanese groups stationing in that area.
In this phase the primary goal of the Lebanese Shiite “Party of God” and of Assad’s himself – who can no longer say no to Iran – is to provide effective missiles to the Lebanese and Iranian-Syrian forces to hit the positions in Northern Israel.
And later possibly shift from the control of the Bekaa-Golan axis directly into the Jewish State.
In this phase, however, Iran wants to avoid a conventional confrontation with Israel and its US allies.
Currently, also in the areas it currently holds in Syria, Iran is interested only in its traditional asymmetric war, which enables it to have a low-cost clash with the minimum use of its forces.
This, however, does not enable us to think about an Iranian war against Israel that is only at low intensity: we should recall, in fact, the operations of the Iranian UAVs in the Israeli airspace of February 2018 or the many missile test launches in June 2018.
Also the Jewish State, however, does not want an open clash. In fact, since 2013 Israel has carried out over 230 operations in Syria, especially against the trafficking of arms for Hezbollah, in addition to many operations – in the “war between wars ” – against the Iranian bases in Syria at least since 2017.
In the statements made by Hassan Nasrallah in February 2019, however, Hezbollah maintained that if there were a clash between the Shiite “Party of God” and Israel, it would not be necessarily confined to the Syrian-Lebanese or to the Lebanese-Israeli system, but it would immediately involve all the “voluntary” forces of the Arab world.
All the organizations that, in various capacities, are part of the Iranian system between the Lebanon and the Sunni area south of Israel will certainly be used by the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” to operate against the Jewish State in an integrated way.
The “corridor” line between Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Lebanon -which is the Iranian target in the Syrian war – is the axis along which all future operations against the Jewish State will take place. It is a broad and very difficult front to hold for both sides, namely Israel and Iran.
Hence, in principle, the future scenarios could be the following: a) a conventional war in Northern Lebanon, with the participation of Hezbollah, Iran, the Hamas network already present on the Litani river and some Syrian groups.
Or b) a clash on the Bekaa-Golan border initially focused on the Syrian territory, thus leaving Southern Lebanon free for a possible secondary attack on Israel, at a later stage of operations.
This war against Israel would clearly be waged by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, by the Iranian Pasdaran, Hezbollah, the Shite groups on the Syrian border, as well as Hamas and the Southern Sunni Islamic jihad and, in all likelihood, also by the pro-Syrian groups present along the border of the Palestinian National Authority with the Jewish State.
Finally, there could be c) a “dual war” in the Lebanon and Syria at the same time, with the further and subsequent support of Hamas and Islamic jihad attacks on Israel from the South.
It should also be recalled that the Houthi guerrillas in Yemen are already capable of blocking the Israeli maritime interests in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and across the Red Sea. Not to mention the always possible attacks of Iranian missile positions in Iraq towards the Jewish State, thus probably resulting in further attacks on the remaining US units between Syria, Iraq and Jordan.
In this case, only two considerations can be made: Israel’s future war in the Lebanon would certainly be less limited than the operations already carried out from 1978 to 1982 until 2000 (the stabilization of Hezbollah) and the actions of 2006.
We can also add that currently the Iranian, Sunni and Syrian forces will shift – as quickly as possible – from an attack against the Israeli critical infrastructure to a real counterforce occupation on the ground.
However, will the Hezbollah and Iranian centres of gravity, as well as those of the Sunni forces in the Lebanon, be quickly identified by Israel in an upcoming attack?
However, in the future is it not ever more probable to have a wide area of action from the North, which will imply – from the very beginning – Hezbollah, Syrian and Iranian positions all along the Syrian border with Israel?
Moreover, what will the Russian Federation do?
Will it want to be hegemonic throughout the Middle East and hence will it reach a sort of agreement with Israel, or will it choose the old strategic posture of acting as defender of the Arab world against the Jewish State?
Where would Russia go with such an old and weak geopolitical perspective?
Whatever happens, the Russian Federation will be the keystone of every operation between Israel, the Lebanon and the Syrian-Iranian axis.
Therefore Russia has only two options: either it steps aside in the future Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli conflict – and hence runs the risk of losing all its power also in Syria – or it chooses to take part in the clashes, possibly indirectly, to favor one party or the other, but only at the right time.
In the future, however, Russia will never do anything to trigger the Syrian fuses again.
Every war operation across Syria runs the risks of undermining above all Russia’s new strategic assets.
In a short time, however, the United States could support the Israeli missile defences. Later Russia could support Iran and Syria only to be consistent and fulfill a commitment made, thus preventing them from using the Russian advanced weapons on Assad’s territory. Furthermore the United States could support Israel, but also an international diplomatic effort that would turn the clash into a short and conventional war, without Israel’s “access to the extremes”, in the customary style in place since 1973.
At that juncture, Israel could choose to systematically weaken the enemy forces, or to divide the opponents, according to the strategy of the Horatii and the Curiatii or of the “distant friend”. Or, as it has already proven it can do, Israel can destabilize Syria and possibly even Iraq on the border of Iraq with Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The extent to which Israel can still trust the United States in this operational and strategic choice is largely uncertain, if not unlikely.
If possible, in the future Israel can organize only a cold peace with Russia, thus increasing – however -its possibility to put pressure on the Russian Federation, also at military one.
The first rule for the Jewish State will always be to avoid splitting and fragmenting its forces. Hence it will always primarily need to immediately identify the enemy’s centre of gravity, although complex and resulting from alliances between different strategic aims.
Hence what can Hezbollah alone do in this phase?
The “Party of God” could avoid bringing the clash with Israel to Southern Lebanon, so as to avoid turning its primary assets into relatively easy targets for Israel.
A movement like the Shiite “Party of God”, but without a Lebanese hinterland or a cover area between the Litani river and Beirut, does not stand a chance and is defeated at the outset.
How much would Syria participate in the operations against Israel?
Probably, as much as to be able to decide the political effects of the war on its border with the Lebanon, but never so much as to use up its forces, in view of a destabilization on the Golan region.
Furthermore, how and to what extent would Iran arm the Houthi with a view to stopping the Israeli supplies in the Red Sea?
Is it possible that the Houthi’s primary goal for Iran is precisely to keep Saudi Arabia away from the new war in the Lebanon?
Would Iran better use them solely for putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, especially pending a Shite uprising from Bahrain, so as to later reach the Saudi provinces – with a Shiite majority – of Baharna, al-Qatif and Al- Ahsa, with the powerful and hidden Twelver Shia community of the Nakhawila, who have always lived in Medina?
You cannot do everything at the same time.
Or Iran and Hezbollah could opt for a low-medium intensity “long war” on the Israeli borders.
As far as we can currently know, however, Hezbollah has not yet clear ideas in mind.
This Shite movement is ever more the result of the many tensions within the complex and now fragmented Iranian regime.
According to the most reliable sources, however, the Lebanese Shiite “Party of God” has at least 110,000 missiles and rockets on the border with Israel.
Iran has at least 3,800 of them between the Litani border and the Bekaa-Golan axis.
Nevertheless 80% of these Iranian missiles cannot yet reach the Israeli territory while ensuring operational safety and security.
Apart from those left by Russia – and closely monitored by it – Syria still has few own missiles, all controlled directly from the Moscow’s Centre for the Aerospace Forces.
Obviously, the only potential that Hezbollah can use is currently its missile and military system in Southern Lebanon.
Also Iran closely monitors Southern Lebanon and, as far as we know, it has a dual command chain for the most relevant missiles.
Hence, time is short for a “war between wars” of the Lebanese, Iranian and Syrian Shiites against Israel.
Nevertheless, while the Party of God’s centre of gravity is so evident and small – and Lebanese only – Israel can always attack massively and in a very short time, thus blocking Hezbollah’s response and implicitly threatening any Lebanese Shiite allies.
Hence, for the “Party of God” the problem is also to be ready for an effective war against Israel, but without ever involving the Lebanese territory, which could become a necessary safe haven after the first Israeli salvos.
Therefore, a concrete possibility is that Hezbollah, Iran and a part of Syria create their guerrilla groups along the Bekaa-Golan and Iraq-Lebanon “corridor”, with a view to distributing the efforts against Israel and avoiding the immediate elimination of their centre of gravity by Israel.
There are currently around 20,000 Shiite foreign fighters in Syria, although Iran has always claimed to have called and trained at least 180,000.
Hence an inevitably slow mobilization – an easy goal of interdiction by the Israeli air forces.
However, Hezbollah’s missiles alone are enough to saturate Israeli defenses.
However, despite the recent Iranian support, the salvo quality and accuracy still leaves something to be desired.
Currently the only possibility for Iran and the Shiite Lebanon against Israel is to launch a limited attack and then use diplomacy and the international business and influence networks to contain and curb the strength of Israeli response.
Hence a good possibility for the Jewish State is to exploit or support Iran’s tendency to trigger a non-conventional conflict, but with the obvious possibility that, from the very beginning, the Syrian or Lebanese conflict may expand directly also onto the Iranian territory.
Hence, we could think of a further effort by Israel to “keep the Americans in”, but even the “Russians in” – just to paraphrase what Lord Ismay said about NATO -as well as to move Hezbollah away from the borderline of the Litani river and the Bekaa-Golan axis, well over the 80 kilometers already requested by Israel.
If Russia remains in Syria, as is now certain, it will have no interest in a long war in Syria or in the Lebanon.
Hence, it could slowly separate its forces from the Shiite and Syrian ones, or ban some areas to the Shiite guerrillas that Iran has already called in Syria.
The Israeli military services, however, have already signaled the presence of Iranian forces from the border with Israel to Northern and Eastern Syria, with a strong Syrian-Lebanese and Iranian military pressure that will almost certainly take place around the upcoming Israeli elections of April 9.
Shortly afterwards, Israel shall assess President Trump’s proposal for a definitive peace between Israel and the Palestinian world.
A peace that will change the whole strategic formula of the Greater Middle East.
Hence, it is not hard to foresee that the Gaza Strip will become an area of overt and full-blown war, put in place by Palestinians and their Iranian supporters.
Over the last few days, major incidents have already occurred at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Therefore the electoral tension in Israel will be a further trigger of very strong and future political-military actions in the North and in the South.
At the Northern border, between Bekaa and Golan, there will be further tensions that will lead to actions by Shiite guerrilla organizations on the Israeli territory.
Both Hezbollah and the Al Qods Brigades of the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” will choose the right time to hit the Jewish State with their missiles, obviously when the tension towards the Gaza Strip reaches its peak.
Or – but it is not an alternative option – along the border between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel.
There is nothing to prevent the Shiite organizations from using Russian positions as shields, which will obviously never participate in the operations of their Syrian-Iranian or Lebanese allies against Israel.
During the Israeli electoral period, the Palestinian jihadist organizations will operate especially between Judea and Samaria. They will possibly be even supported by the Russian Federation, which still plays the card of Palestinian unity both to compete with Iran and to organize the support for Russia by the Sunni world.
Nevertheless, nothing prevents us from thinking that Russia also has some political “champion” within the Israeli electoral campaign.
Not surprisingly, the first Conference for Palestinian Unity began in Warsaw on February 13, with as many as 60 countries invited and the initial proposal for mediation by the United States.
Nevertheless, precisely on February 11-13, a new inter-Palestinian Conference was organized in Moscow, with the participation of Hamas and other groups of the Sunni jihad.
What does Russia want to obtain from these operations?
Firstly, Russia wants to avoid a new Iranian hegemony in this region that Russia has always nurtured.
For obvious purposes, which have little changed since the end of the Cold War.
Secondly, the Russian Federation wants to win the geopolitical support of this unified Palestinian region, with a view to becoming the real broker of a new Middle East peace, thus ousting both the United States and the much sillier “mediators” of the unaware and now comical Union European.
Hence, the Russian Federation’s bet is a minimax, as we would say in mathematical terms: to reach the primary goal, that is the Russian hegemony over the whole Middle East, with the minimum effort, i.e. the systematic negotiation with all actors.
In all likelihood, Russia will ask the Jewish State to reduce the military pressure eastwards and southwards, but only to replace it with its own future “deterrence force” at the edges of the various borders.
Obviously, by using all Russia’s allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will discuss these issues in his upcoming meetings with President Putin in Moscow on February 21.
However, Syria and Iran will certainly not be the only topics of the bilateral talks with President Putin.
Hence, as already said, the Iranian and the Lebanese Shiite forces, the proxies of the Shiite guerrillas that Iran has called in Syria, the Iranian special forces and those of Bashar al-Assad are moving away from the border with Israel to gather in Northern and Eastern Syria, up to the border with Iraq.
This is really bad news for the Israeli decision-makers.
Currently Iran – with its “revolutionary” groups called from Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan – but also the Hezbollah and the Pasdaran special units, are quickly moving away from the Golan region and -hence – become hard to be attacked by the Israeli forces.
This obviously happens because of the USA leaving its positions – a withdrawal that Iran wants to capitalize quickly and fully, thus removing forces from Syria and, hence, reaching full strategic depth in Iraq, a country from which Iranian missiles can still reach the Israeli territory.
Iran’s plan is therefore to leave the various militias, its Shiite proxies and a part of Hezbollah on the Syrian-Israeli border, as if they were various buffer areas, so as to later protect itself permanently from the Israeli attacks and anyway make it hard for the Israeli forces to control Northern Israel militarily.
Said forces could not control remote operations, if not when it is too late.
Hence, Israel is currently the primary target of the missiles owned by the Palestinian jihad, both in the South and in the East, as well as of the Iranian and Shiite forces in Iraq, of Hezbollah in the north and of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Not to mention the Iraqi networks of Iran and part of its Shiite proxies.
It will be a war on several fronts and with centers of gravity other than the usual ones.
Iran: How to Avoid a War
Upon closer inspection, it appears that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a relative near dearth of human rights organizations operating freely within that country.
Although Iran has apparently allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, as all as some foreign nations to inspect from time to time its weapons facilities and nuclear power apparati, there does not seem to be a corresponding level of interest generated both externally or internally in investigating the various human rights complaints and abuses within Iran.
To be sure, this is the ultimate Achilles Heel of Iran – and a massive glaring fact that Western powers such as the United States, Israel, and other nations seize on to justify bombing the current government of Iran into oblivion.
On a more sick and hypocritical level the fact that Gulf States nations such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also constantly issue clarion calls for regime change or war with Iran, when they themselves host numerous and countless violations of human rights against women, minorities, religious organizations, and “heretics,” still this only underscores the geopolitical reasons that these aggressive nations want to change or destroy the current Iranian regime.
In order to both diffuse and defray these attacks, Iran has no other real choice other than to augment and increase their internal human rights organizations to both monitor as well as organically implement change in their country, subject to the will of their governed people.
By doing so, Iran could effectively accomplish 2 goals: (1) maintain their current government with relative stability; and (2) organically grow and develop to adequately and accurately transform their government into one that faithfully represents the interests and aspirations of its people, rather than appearing to subjugate and suppress them.
To be sure, Iran would be giving up some of its internal and external sovereignty by allowing more human rights monitoring agencies to actively police and report on its internal human rights conflicts and complaints, but it would go miles towards placating its enemies, removing their arguments for regime change/outright disastrous war, and would also allow for Iran to approach modernity with the rest of the world, rather than being trapped in a society/culture which really has nothing in common with the rest of the civilized world, any more.
In a similar vein, if the Iranian regime is truly serious about joining the league of modern nations, then they should not be afraid or closed off with regards to implementing this.
A nation must be confident in itself, its government, and its own culture, but should also evolve and reflect global change as it presents itself by and for the will of its people, not repressing them as such.
Iran has apparently had a troubling history with appointing human rights organizations in the past, as is reflected by its handling and treatment of the Human Rights Activists in Iran (also known as “HRAI” and “HRA”) which is a non-political non-governmental organization composed of advocates who defend human rights in Iran, which was founded in 2006.
This HRAI organization supposedly was set up to keep the Iranian community and the world informed by monitoring human rights violations in the country and disseminating the news about such abuses.
Additionally, HRAI was allegedly enacted to strive to improve the current state of affairs in a peaceful manner and support strict adherence to human rights principles.
However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has apparently moved to both dismantle and arrest many of the organization’s leaders and representatives, beginning in 2010.
Specifically, on March 2, 2010, the government of Iran moved to break up HRAI.
During the subsequent reconstruction of the organization, the organization apparently registered as a United States non-profit organization and was invited to attend the annual NGO Conference sponsored by the United Nations.
While the Iranian government may have a reason to distrust the impetus/motivations of the United States, Israel and the Gulf States, it really has no reason to distrust the United Nations, which has historically been its only real honest broker/ally.
Adding insult to injury, the HRAI has also been invited to join the World Movement for Democracy and to participate in the human rights events sponsored by the governments of Canada, the United States and the European Union.
The Islamic Republic of Iran can not (and should not) avoid this issue any further.
Merely parroting the mantra that “Saudi Arabia engages in more (or less) human rights abuses” is no longer adequate to stave off and prevent the war drum that is heading Iran’s way.
There are simply too many financial, oil and gas, military industrial complex, geopolitical, and human rights reasons and powers fixated on either regime change or outright war with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
If Iran is truly a confident nation that values it past history and desired future, it must drastically increase and augment its human rights organizations (to get on par with the United States, Europe, and Israel) and move forward to finally embrace its place in the sun as its leaders supposedly state that they want.
If not, then it deserves exactly what it is probably going to get, more war, destabilization, destruction, disorientation, and disarray, similar to what happened to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other nations with closed door human rights policies.
The new strategic axis between the Russian Federation and Iran
On February 11 last the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, arrived in Beirut, shortly after the establishment of a new Lebanese government that, although led by an old friend of Westerners, namely Hariri, is certainly one of the recent governments closest to Hezbollah.
Minister Javad Zarif offered the Iranian support to the new government – “support in all sectors”.
Besides the Foreign Minister, the Iranian delegation was composed of a select group of 30 Iranian businessmen, who met Lebanese and Palestinian businessmen.
It is the first sign of an Iranian “grip on the Lebanon” by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which will lead to many strategic, geopolitical and economic changes.
It is obvious that, at the end of clashes in Syria, Iran wants to secure a stable centre of power in the Mediterranean region, in close contact with Israel and towards the East Mediterranean gas area which – as often noted – will be very important in the future.
Nor should we forget that Zarif’s visit was scheduled precisely on the day of the 40thanniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Shite revolution – a political symbol which should certainly not be overlooked in a country with a large Shite population.
Same religion, same political leadership – this seems to be the meaning of this careful choice and coordination of dates.
Hence both Russia and Iranthink that the new stability in the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad is based above all in the Lebanon.
Both Russia and Iran, however, have indicated – at least indirectly in the case of Russia – Hezbollah, in particular, as their primary point of reference in the Lebanon.
For the Russian Ambassador to Beirut, currently only the United States can trigger a conflict with Iran, given its regional policy.
As to the probable future conflict between Israel and the Lebanon, Ambassador Zasypkyn believes that the situation is much more unstable and even more controllable.
In other words, Russia still relies on its power of political and military deterrence in Syria to avoid a clash between Hezbollah and Israel – a war that would put a strain on both its new hegemony in the Middle East and stability in Syria.
Just one day before Zarif’s visit to the Lebanon, the Russian envoy to Jerusalem had reassured the Israeli government that Hezbollah was a “stability force” throughout the region.
Probably Russia cannot yet do without Iran, both in Syria and in the Lebanon, and accepts – like it or not – that the primary link in the Lebanon is between the “Party of God” and the new government led by Hariri.
But how long can it last?
If Hezbollah decided to exert new pressure on Israel, Russia could quickly lose its grip on Southern Syria and miss its primary goal of becoming the rotating platform of the Greater Middle East.
Inter alia, the signals coming from the Lebanese Shiite military group are very clear: on February 7 last, Hassan Nasrallah openly called for the rearming of Lebanese forces (obviously) only by Iran and later made it clear that, in a possible US future attack to support Israel, Hezbollah would immediately fight on the Iranian side.
Nasrallah also asked to make the new Iranian “advanced” missiles available to the Lebanon, as well as sensor systems and tactical and signals intelligence.
It is therefore the request for a real strategic parity between Southern Lebanon and Israel.
This means that the Lebanese Shiites’ aim is to eliminate all kind of US interference in the region and later put pressure – not just at military level – on the Jewish State that, without the US support, would be forced to accept a downward and uncertain peace.
This is the first goal of both Iran and Hezbollah, but certainly not of the Russian Federation.
Nevertheless, in his Lebanese meetings, Javad Zarif – who implicitly accepted Hezbollah’s request for help – also made it clear that Bavar 373 – a missile launching and air defence system very similar to the Russian S-300 – was ready for the forces of the “Party of God”, but also for the Lebanese regular army.
“Bavar” means “belief”, albeit in a strictly religious sense, while the number 373 reminds of the soldiers belonging to the final ranks of the Twelfth Imam.
Iran is full of political symbols that must always be taken into account.
Bavar 373 is a well-copied surface-to-air missile system – probably from the Russian S-300 system that appeared in Iran for the first time in 2015.
The system uses the Iran-made missile called Sayyad-4 having a range of 150 kilometres. It also uses advanced radars that – as the analysts who saw Bavar 373 at work maintain – can saturate at least sixty targets at the same time.
It is therefore obvious to imagine what will immediately happen: sooner or later Israel will have the opportunity of destroying the Iranian networks in the Lebanon with a surgical operation. In all likelihood, however, Hariri’s government will refuse Iran’s offer, thus allowing Russian weapons and, above all, the S-300 missiles to arrive in the Lebanon.
It should be recalled that the S-300 missiles will be carefully monitored both from the Russian bases in Syria, which will never be abandoned by Russia, and simultaneously from the Russian missile site.
Obviously Iran does not object to the transfer of Russian weapons to the Lebanon. Quite the reverse.
Furthermore, the Shite regime will soon maintain that, since the United States still arm and train the Kurds against the so-called Caliphate, it also regularly and lawfully arms their Hezbollah units against the same enemy, and with equivalent devices and systems.
Hence Iran’s and Russia’s primary goal is the total expulsion of the United States from Syria and from the Lebanese and Israeli Mediterranean coast.
Once completed this operation, Russia will ask Israel for a new deployment of its potentials against Hezbollah and the Palestinian jihad forces, which are also in Iran’s calculations.
And possibly, in the future, in Russia’s calculations.
However, as far as we currently know, the final US withdrawal from Syria should be completed by the end of April.
But, again, what is the reason underlying this new Russian interest in the “Party of God”?
It is already clear that Russia does not want to remain alone in Syria.
The Russian Federation, however, does not even want Iran to undermine its regional hegemony, since it believes that everything Iran can ask is the stability of its “corridor” from Iraq to the Lebanon, but only under Russia’s control.
Hence taking Hezbollah away from Iran’s hands is vital for the Russian Federation, which desperately needs strategic buffers to control Syria by isolating Iran’s primary instrument, namely Hezbollah.
As already seen, also on February 11 last, in its talks with Netanyahu’s government, Russia maintained that “Hezbollah was a peace force”.
This also makes us understand that President Putin has no interest in stopping the Israeli operations against the tunnels of the Shiite military organization.
Again, for Russia, the possible conflict between Israel and Lebanon can only break out because of the United States, considering that Hezbollah supported only the lawful government of Damascus, unlike what the United States did since the beginning of hostilities.
Hence Russia believes that the United States should tone down its attacks on Iran, with a view to reducing the Shiite Republic’s pressure on Hezbollah and the current Lebanese government.
Is this hypothesis reasonable? Both yes and no.
Certainly, if the United States wants a prolonged war (this is the sense that Iran attributes to the US statements), the most likely reaction will be an Iranian attack that will set fire to the whole “corridor” and destabilize the Golan region.
Nevertheless, is it not equally probable that the US Presidency’s brags were just a strategic “trial balloon” and boasts for internal use?
As is currently probable, it is precisely Russia that wants the “Party of God” shift from a clear Iranian dominance to a stable (and hegemonic) Russian protection.
If this happened, Russia would avoid paying too high a Syrian price to Iran. It would also have a military organization at its disposal that could well secure the East Mediterranean region and keep – again on Russia’s behalf – peace and stability of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, whose Armed Forces it never liked much.
Three important considerations shall be made in this respect: the S-300 operating systems that Russia has left in Syria since last October are not yet operational.
This means that Russia has not yet decided what to do with them in Syria.
Furthermore, Iran has not yet completed the factory and has not yet started the production of “advanced” missiles on the Syrian territory.
It was, in fact, mere psyops to show to Israel and the USA a greater development stage than the real one and to underline the impending danger of an Israeli attack.
Finally, Iran has not yet accepted the pressing Russian request to quickly move the centralized command of its forces in Syria, which operates from the Damascus International Airport area.
All Iranians are still there and they will stay there for a long time.
Therefore, in essence, Russia believes that all these post-truths are the result of an American and Israeli psywar operation, designed to clearly separate the Iranian, Russian and Lebanese interests and hence rebuild a security network in Syria and in the Lebanon.
Precisely in response to said alleged psyops, Russia is currently trying to place the whole “Party of God” movement under its wing, at a time when it knows very well that the Iranian support for Hezbollah is weak and economically unpredictable.
Hence a new Hezbollah, which would act as a watchdog in Syria and ensure the security of the coasts south of Latakia and Tartus. It would also enable Russia to have access to the wide universe of Sunni and Shite “resistance” movements opposing the Israeli expansion.
Russia wants a stable Israel, but small and less powerful than it currently is.
We have already seen important signs of this operation during the Sochi meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani held on February 14 last.
On that occasion President Putin clearly reaffirmed his support for Hezbollah, i.e. his “grip on the group”, and the possible use of this new protection for both Turkey and obviously Iran.
Probably Russia knows that Iran can no longer afford to support the very expensive “Party of God”, as well as the whole jihadist network south of Israel.
According to Russian plans, however, Iran and Turkey will never be able to use the new arrangement of the “Party of God” on their own.
In addition, Rosneft has already penetrated the complex and largely autonomous Lebanese natural gas market which, as already noted, has left the sphere of the Cairo Conference.
A twenty-year agreement between the Russian natural gas giant and the Lebanese government is already in place for a storage site in Tripoli.
As soon as the USA leaves the Middle East, Russia will immediately occupy the oil and gas sites and positions.
But it will do so on its own, without parallel agreements with Syria or Iran.
Moreover, from now on, the Lebanon explicitly wants Russia to manage the relations between the Lebanon and Syria that, as is well-known, have never been particularly peaceful.
The variable of the Lebanese real independence from Syria is the central point of Russia’s current posture and, hence, of its specific focus on Hezbollah.
The one billion US dollar agreement of military transfers from Russia to the Lebanon, which has been much discussed in Western capitals, is a first sign showing that Russia does not want Iran in the Lebanon, but can accept it among the other secondary players, above all in Syria.
The Russian-Lebanese trade has risen from 423 million in 2016 to the current 800 million, with a market dominated by Russian energy transfers to the Lebanese market.
In all likelihood, in the future Russia will support Hezbollah’s request that the Israeli deep-sea Leviathan gas field illegally acquires some of the resources of the Lebanese gas fields.
The threat is clear: if Russia fully supported the Lebanese requests, there would be the possibility of a beginning of hostilities between the “Party of God” and Israel. At the end of a short, but harsh confrontation, said hostilities would be mediated exactly by the Russian Federation.
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