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Syrian Civil War Sideshow
Israel Strikes Hizballah in Syria?

Syrian news outlets reported that Israel struck Hezbollah positions around Qalamoun on Saturday, according to the Times of Israel. More:

The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the alleged airstrikes. Hezbollah denied Israeli raids had targeted their positions, according to Channel 2.

According to Channel 2, the IDF released a statement before the reports emerged warning that, “in the coming hours sounds of explosions may be heard in the Upper Galilee. These are initiated and controlled explosions that were planned in advance and not a security incident.”

The reported strikes came less than a week after Hezbollah-allied terrorist Samir Kuntar was killed in an explosion in his Damascus home, which has been attributed to Israel. Kuntar’s death was followed within hours by rocket strikes from Lebanon on the northern Israeli city of Nahariya.

Israel has warned Hezbollah not to respond to Kuntar’s death.

There is a lot of battle smoke in the Middle East these days, and it can be hard to separate the rumors from the news. But if there was an actual strike, an interesting dynamic appears to be playing out here: Israel’s strikes on Hizballah win it points in most of the Sunni world, where Hizballah is hated as stalwart Iranian ally and a participant in the atrocities of the Assad regime. And as for Hizballah, it is in a dilemma: If it fails to retaliate against the Israeli strikes, it looks weak. But if it retaliates, it gives Israel a perfect opportunity to unleash a serious series of attacks at a time when the war in Syria makes the organization stretched, exposed and vulnerable.

It’s too soon to tell what’s going on here, but this is one sideshow to the Syrian Civil War to watch closely. Israel doesn’t get many chances to attack its enemies while basking in the approval of the Sunni Arab world.

 

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  • WigWag

    And notice that there hasn’t been a peep out of the Russians. Could it be that the Russians, through their acquiescence are also trying to send a message to Hizballah, Iran and even their ally, Assad?

    It’s pure speculation, but I wonder whether the Russians provided the intelligence on Samir Kuntar’s location that facilitated the Israeli strike.

    Whatever else one may think of him, Putin is surely a lot more intelligent than Obama.

    • Pete

      “Putin is surely a lot more intelligent than Obama.”

      Who isn’t?

      • Ellen

        Right. And what Putin is showing in a masterful way is how a second tier power that is on the road to ruin (economic and demographic) can play a huge strategic role in the world for a limited period of time, with a clever and determined leader who knows how to use force where needed, and is WILLING to use it.

        All the babbling in Washington from the Obamoid sychophants, like David Ignatius, contends that Russia is a declining power that is facing a losing war of attrition in Syria, etc. The so-called “arc of history” is going against the Russians. The wretched “arc of history” was also going against Hitler in 1938 when he executed the Anschluss with Austria and invaded the Sudetenland. Yes, he eventually lost the war and devastated Germany for years to come, but it took 6 long years at huge cost for many other nations to restore that arc of history. And it could have failed. There was no guarantee of an American led victory or the bravery of Churchill.

        Putin is the sort that makes history. So is Netanyahu. That is why they respect each other. Obama is the perpetual bystander, lecturing on while his audience gradually loses interest and changes the channel.

        • Jim__L

          I had heard that Russia has found a way to turn around the demographics, in a way that Europe has not. (America is going the way of Europe too, disturbingly.)

          Word used to be that Russia was awash in brilliant and well-trained professionals (and its educational system could produce such people) but I’ve also heard there’s been a bit of a brain drain (and have seen a number of Russian / Belorussian / Ukrainian expats floating around Silicon Valley.)

          Russia could be in good shape if they can figure out a way to bring their intellectual resources to bear (tough, in a system dominated by oligarchs rather than entrepreneurs) and to keep them from fleeing the country (again tough in an unfree system, although Russia could probably resolve that without budging on the PC freedoms-of-the-pants that are causing demographic collapse in the West), as that would help resolve their reliance on resources.

          I wouldn’t count Russia out yet, but it would take some mixture of the patriotism of Putinism and the sort of freewheeling (and yet non-brutal) entrepreneurialism that Russia has never really gotten the hang of, to make them a player on the level of the US, China, or even Japan.

        • ljgude

          From your language `I think you find ‘The Arc of History” as dubious as I do. To me it is simply a slightly camouflaged version of the Marxist trope that History is inevitably leading to the success of the Communist Revolution. Not as obvious as “The Right Side of History” but nonetheless part of that dubious thinking. I think Hitler was defeated by human effort – not by History. Nor did History end with the fall of the Soviet Union as Mr Fukuyama suggested – instead the world left has doubled down on its delusions since 1989 and in the US are currently as confident as ever that America is moving to the left.

        • iconoclast

          “And it could have failed.”

          I was privileged to know several WWII officers who had gone on to make the military their career and had studied at our War and Staff colleges. Every one of them said that the war with Germany was a much nearer thing than anyone nowadays realizes. I also met one or two older Wehrmacht officers who quietly held the same opinion. Too much bad TV and movies created an undeserved sense of inevitability? A professoriat that believes in fantasies like “arc of history” as well as “anti-war” and pseudo-Marxist delusions?

      • Fred

        Yeah, that’s kind of like being the fastest runner in a hospital for paraplegics.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Best ballerina in Galveston?

    • adk

      “…Putin is surely a lot more intelligent than Obama.”

      No, although Putin is dumb in his own — very Russian — way. For some 15 years now, he’s been busy recreating the failed model of a centralized mafia state with weak , commodities export-dependent economy, domestic chauvinism, aggression abroad and the cult of the leader. How intelligent is that?

      • WigWag

        Putin may be despicable, but he’s not dumb. You are right, he has spent the past 15 years recreating the failed model of a centralized Mafia state, but he has few if any alternatives. The idea that Russia could evolve into even a dumbed-down version of a liberal democracy is little more than fantasy. Russia is no more capable of moving in the direction of western-style democracy than Arab states are. The Russians and the Arabs are simply too weighted down by their history and culture to become something different than what they are. Interestingly, the Russians (who are mostly Orthodox Christians) and the Arabs (who are mostly Sunni Muslim) share exactly the same affliction; an addiction to fatalism. A poisonous fatalism is inextricably woven into both the Russian and Arab psyches. Read Pushkin to see what I mean about the Russians.

        Russia is incapable of changing; Putin understands this better than anyone. He certainly understands it far better than American neoconservatives or liberal internationalists do.

        Putin is the way he is because he has no choice.

        • adk

          Well, we agree on the facts if not on how to interpret them. Whether Russia/Putin are destined to remain locked into an authoritarian system is unknowable. What’s clear to me is that their current system is unsustainable and Putin’s latest moves actually accelerate its decline. Also, his political choices are determined less by some “fatalistic” understanding of Russia’s nature than by the simple desire to stay in power.

        • Jim__L

          “Putin is the way he is because he has no choice.”

          WigWag, are you Russian too, or is fatalism just contagious here?

          • Dale Fayda

            It’s much more than just “fatalism” that plagues the Russians. It’s their cultural unwillingness (or inability?) to look at every single public office, from the lowest policeman on the beat to the leader of the country (Grand Prince, Tsar, General Secretary, President, whatever) as anything other than a means for personal enrichment and aggrandizement. To the average Russian, “freedom” means a relatively unhindered license to drink and to gather unto themselves what they consider to be theirs, by any means their intricate minds may devise – legal, quasi-legal and/or illegal. This kind of behavior by everyone in authority is not only universally accepted and condoned, but is expected, lauded and admired, as long every other level of social underlings feel that they also have a reasonable shot at robbing those around them. “Incorruptibility” and “probity” are foreign (literally) concepts in the Russian culture and are generally met with incomprehension and annoyance. There is no history of codification of individual rights, or indeed of even a theory of rights outside those of the leader’s will.

            When combined with an chauvinistic over-reaction to a massive national inferiority complex, this cultural norm combines to produce a ruling class which has traditionally consisted of either corrupt tyrants, slightly less corrupt tyrants, corrupt wanna-be tyrants, corrupt self-indulgent impulsive clowns or worthless non-entities, controlled by corrupt wanna-be tyrants from behind the scenes.

            The intractable difficulty in changing this pattern is that all levels of Russian society are by and large OK with it and will work assiduously to re-direct any deviation from this norm back into these familiar channels.

      • iconoclast

        A lot of Russians still remember the violent anarchy, criminal gangs, and slaughter of the 90’s under Yeltsin (not to mention the financial meltdowns) and still regard Putin as the savior who ended that years-long nightmare.

        • adk

          All true, and Putin benefited tremendously by comparison with Yeltsin and his decade in power (plus the rising oil prices that “lifted all boats”…as one Russian put it, “when oil is at $150, we have a great president.”)

          But look how he wasted the good times, turned to external aggression to deflect his people’s attention in coming bad times and unleashed nationalistic, anti-western hysteria for the same reason. This isn’t going to end well for him and for Russia.

          • iconoclast

            So true. I am one who thinks that Putin was in the right on both Georgia and Chechnya and in the wrong on Eastern Ukraine. My family tells me that the anti-US hysteria in Russia is very bad as well as extraordinarily (in this internet age) ignorant. People have always known the “new” Russians were crooks and stealing everything they could get their hands on but somehow Obama became a worse villain than them.

          • adk

            For the taste of the current Russian psyche, read comments here
            http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/12/21/the-myth-of-russias-containment/

            They are written, of course, mostly by trolls, but are still very revealing. It’s funny in a way that such a wimp and Putin’s accommodationist as Obama was made a bogeyman in Russia.

          • iconoclast

            There is a strong current of racism that runs through the Russian culture so the demonization of Obama isn’t really much of a surprise to me.

          • adk

            It’s both anti-western hysteria and racism… a nice combo indeed.

          • iconoclast

            Even after study, living with Russians, and marrying years ago into a Russian family I still do not understand them. At turns amazingly smart, passionate, courageous, vigorous, canny, and wise they can be pig-headed, ignorant, lazy, and suffering from an utterly undeserved inferiority complex. Questions that would have Americans going utterly batshiite (like a rogue nuclear state less than 200 km away from a major city or living next door to China) just make Russians shrug.

          • adk

            Well, if it’s any comfort to you, they do not quite understand themselves — “mysterious Russian soul” and all that. High art and science on the one hand, heavy drinking and outhouses on the other; they both despise and envy the West, and all that often mixed in a single individual… go figure.

      • Jim__L

        Different question, same answer — How well is it working for Putin personally?

        Very, it seems.

        • adk

          Yes, for the time being. Yet the economy is doing poorly and his military adventures in Ukraine and Syria are losing their glitter, so less both bread and circus for the public. So what to do, start another little splendid war somewhere? And then what? To use WigWag’s expression, Putin may already “have no choice”.

          • Jim__L

            Tiger-riding has the favorite sport of the Russian leadership since the time of the Tsars.

            Besides, why not start another little war somewhere if people are so embarrassingly grateful when you calm things down again?

  • Ellen

    Netanyahu will have to take out Hezbollah sooner or later, according to Israel news reports. They have apparently 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel, not the original 100,000 assumed. Netanyahu’s usual posture (as seen in the Gaza war) is to be passive and to wait until Israel is attacked before retaliating against Arab enemies, especially the Palestinians. This is mainly because of the fear of European retaliation. They routinely label Israeli defensive actions as “aggression”, so you can imagine what they would do in the event of a war that is actually started by Israel, even if it is to pre-empt a larger and more damaging later war.

    If Netanyahu actually provokes a war with Hezbollah now, to destroy the organization when it is clearly in a weakened position, that will tell us three things:
    1. He is not afraid of retaliation from Europe because they are so consumed by their internal problems and weakened by their economic decline
    2. As the article stated, the Sunni Arab world is rooting for Israel in this case, without any regard for the Palestinian issue
    3. Netanyahu doesn’t care what Obama thinks, because he is a lame duck, an unpopular president, his foreign policy is viewed as a failure, and the next president is not going to continue in the same path.

    This is Bibi’s opportunity to show that he is not the passive do-nothing that many people accuse him of being.

    • Episteme

      Hezbollah is a weak position compared to usual after recent years of the Syrian War (it had basically withdrawn to Lebanon although there seem to be feelers out into Syria as a defensive ring). In any case, it seems to be unlike to see them returning to their previous position as one of Assad’s major forces any time soon (given losses in the first three years, especially from the initial ISIS and al-Nusra pushes) – even Iran has shown some reticence to resume the level of funding that they’ve previously given.

      I wonder whether, particularly with Israel’s thawed relationships with the Sunni powers (cemented by the strategic relationship with al-Sisi that forms a sort of triangle with Abdullah in Jordan), if the goal here is to ‘convince’ Hezbollah of the dangers of stepping back outside Lebanon and engaging in the wider war. Rather than a costly war on its own borders, I think that Israel would prefer to see a weakened military-wing of Hezbollah voted down by the political side and then surrounded (once their allies in Syria are off the table) by a new Sunni axis with at least an unofficial relationship with Israel that would allow for a dismantlement of the Lebanese shi’ite forces with very different (and less deleterious to Northern Israel citizenry) methods.

      I’ve long said that, if anything good comes out of all these hell in this decade’s Middle East, it’ll be recognition for the Kurds and detente-or-better between the Sunni powers and Israel as an outcome of wartime relationships…

  • solstice

    Hizballah retaliation will likely be small-scale and insignificant given how consumed it is by the Syrian civil war. It has taken heavy casualties in Syria, and the last thing it needs is a full-scale war with Israel that would devastate its militia, its support base, Lebanese infrastructure, and the Lebanese civilian population. Israel knows this and therefore enjoys significant flexibility in conducting precision strikes on juicy, high-profile Hizballah targets in Syria. Rather than a full-scale war between Israel and Hizballah, it is in both Israeli and American interests for the warring parties in Syria to be at each other’s throats for as long as possible. Hizballah actually serves Israeli interests when it kills Sunni fighters in Syria, none of whom are moderate, none of whom are our friends, and all of whom are jihadists. The same is true when the Sunnis inflict casualties on Hizballah fighters. The longer the Syrian civil war continues, the greater the likelihood that it will spill over completely into Lebanon, which would bleed Hizballah further and render it even less capable of waging war on Israel.

  • gabrielsyme

    If Israel thinks it is making an intelligent play here, it needs to think again. Striking Hezbollah in Syria does precious little to reduce Hezbollah’s ability to target Israel, and reminds Hezbollah that Israel remains its enemy at a time when it is increasingly tempted to concentrate on securing Shia communities against Sunni power (which would be a huge win for Israel). In terms of gaining Sunni approbation, Israel needs to understand that the Saudis and many of the gulf states are only aligned with Israel for temporary, tactical reasons – they cannot gain enough gratitude to overwhelm the anti-semitism that will drive the Saudis back to opposing Israel as soon as its strategic position is assured. Israel is making enemies while engaging in a vain attempt to win approval from Sunnis who return to their historic hostility towards Israel as soon as is convenient.

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