In the wake of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the threat of “open war” that accompanied it has surpassed the “battlefield” and we are now witnessing a race between the desire to bypass the acute embarrassment felt by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand and the attempt to slip away on the other, especially on the part of Hezbollah and Iran. This is particularly so since Syria, regardless of the awkwardness of the situation, always prefers to remain tight-lipped.
A delegation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrived in Beirut to offer its condolences along with a threat to wage a war to annihilate Israel. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s rhetoric and political discourse are becoming more heated, defending its right to bear arms “so that it may realize its dream to wipe out Israel from existence (as illustrated by the address of Mohammed Yaghi, former parliamentarian and official in charge of the Bekaa region, during the annual memorial of Hezbollah’s former Secretary-General Abbas al Musawi).
Since then, there has been a lot of talk circulating about an imminent regional war. Such talk helps fuel Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to continue their “present game” since it distances every other party from legitimate accountability.
A phone call with a well-informed Western source ruled out the possibility of a war breaking out. He said that talking about the possibility of a war for intimidation purposes does not mean its actual instigation or the preparation for it – besides, there is no mechanism that could lead to war.
Israel is not concerned with a regional war since its main concern is Iran and it does not want to get involved in any action that would distract it from that. In fact, if Israel was embroiled in a regional war and Iran continued its pursuit of nuclear arsenal, then the consequences would be catastrophic for Israel.
But Syria does not want war either; it is unprepared and has only just started to modernize its army and moreover lacks the confidence that would drive it to adopt such action. According to my source, “[Syria] does not want war as long as American President George W. Bush is still in the White House and as long as French President Nicolas Sarkozy still occupies his post – given that the two are among Syria’s archenemies. Syria aims to downplay the situation and act as though nothing had happened. Besides, Egypt and Jordan do not want war.”
He added, “The only thing that could happen is for Hezbollah to act recklessly by launching a war on Israel, in which case Syria would become implicated. It would not be a regional war but rather a war between Hezbollah, Israel and Syria in Lebanon.”
This is why there is no prospect of a regional war, however one should not rule out the possibility of long-term developments in the situation that could lead to war. But in the forthcoming weeks it is not a viable option. The Western source asserted that the Arabs do not want a regional war since Israel has many strong allies that will back it in any case regardless of what it does, not to mention that Israel, too, does not want a regional war since its chief concern is Iran.
But what about Iran?
The source said, “If the war was one that would distract attention from Iran, then perhaps it could have helped it but Iran is concerned because all the radical parties are linked to it: Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. This is why if war does erupt, the incentive to strike Iran will grow stronger.”
Since Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah’s threats have increased; however all the threats are conditional upon one factor which is “if Israel dares to strike Lebanon”. But what if the opposite were to take place? What if Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah carried out his threat in which he pledged to avenge Mughniyeh’s blood outside of the “legitimate battlefield”?
All the signs indicate that Hezbollah does not want a major war with Israel and the latter shares the same sentiment – but if any developments led to Israel launching a war on Lebanon, it might extend further to Syria but will not go beyond that. This is why a major military confrontation is highly unlikely in the coming few weeks. Even on the domestic level in Lebanon and in spite of the rampant skirmishes, none of the Lebanese parties want war.
The same source added, “If Hezbollah appears to be losing in Lebanon then Iran will be under immense pressure to intervene. For Iran, the priority now lies in the completion of their nuclear program. The moment that Iran possesses nuclear arsenal, all the rules of the game will change and the Iranian position will greatly improve.”
Hezbollah realizes the critical nature of the phase that Iran is presently living and knows that Iran wants to avoid any development that could deter it from completing its nuclear program. What could impede the Iranian endeavor is either military action launched by the United States and Israel together, or a maritime siege that the US Marine Corps would lay to Iran. Undoubtedly, Iran wants to avoid all these repercussions or what could lead to their manifestation since its main aim is to attain the nuclear weapon. The source added, “All the events in the region are dwarfed in comparison to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
In a meeting with a number of Arab politicians, questions were focused upon what had driven Hezbollah to exaggerate the loss of Imad Mughniyeh as a senior leader of the party to such an extent, and the movement’s haste in revealing its intention to avenge his death. It is because the major operations that were carried out by Mughniyeh such as the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the hijacking of the Kuwaiti Al Jabriya plane, the assassination attempt on the late Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed’s life as well as the bombings in the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, were implemented in the interest of revolutionary Iran.
But could the assassination of Mughniyeh in Damascus have a negative impact upon the solidity of the Syrian regime? According to the informed western source, Israel does not support toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad and accordingly the assassination of Mughniyeh does not subject the Syrian regime to any risk. Nevertheless, the Syrian regime has been embarrassed since it is the second time that an incident of such magnitude has taken place on Syrian soil ─ the first incident being the Israeli shelling of an alleged nuclear site on September 6, 2007. Yet the Syrian regime was forced to remain silent about this incident as if it had finished reading the final chapter of a book and never returned to it again.”
The assassination of Mughniyeh was the motive behind a full week of fiery speeches and statements by Lebanese figures that targeted Israel as the main suspect. And from there, as if the overall picture required Arab involvement to complete the conspiracy theories, statements were launched that claimed that the Syrian regime had discovered an Arab plot that aimed at toppling it. This mound of threats and statements emerged to conceal Mughniyeh’s assassination in Damascus that took place in a tightly secured area. The claims made by the Syrian Tishreen newspaper that Mughniyeh had entered Syria using a false passport as a citizen and had rented an apartment as any other normal person without telling the Syrian authorities, were unconvincing. All the anger was then focused towards Israel as the assassin and Lebanon as the battlefield.
The western source expressed that it was unsure of which party was responsible for Mughniyeh’s assassination: “It would seem that Israel is the perpetrator since it will benefit from his death, however I am not certain of this. What I am sure of however is that his assassination in Damascus will not have an impact on the stability of the Syrian regime.”
As for the Lebanese, they are afraid of being dragged into civil war and fear war with Israel, the consequences of which they could no longer bear. Some of them linked the “accident” that led to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh with the near completion of preparations for the International Tribunal to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri. They recalled the story of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who was deported from Syria after Turkey threatened Syria with military action. However it could be said that this is merely a Lebanese concern as the Lebanese are terrified of paying the price for Sayyed Nasrallah’s threat to take revenge from Israel for the assassination of Mughniyeh. One Lebanese politician said, “Israel threatened to kill the leaders of Hezbollah and Mughniyeh is one of them. Its second war with Lebanon may have ended with the assassination of Mughniyeh. This war was started to alleviate international pressure to which Iran was being subjected because of its nuclear program and it ended with increasing pressure on Syria, Iran’s ally.”
When Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed 80 others, it did not consider that Israel was waiting for a “convenient” opportunity to attack the “Iranian first line of defense”; thus war broke out destroying Lebanon but not Hezbollah.
Today it is widely known that Israel’s primary concern is the Iranian nuclear weapon that Iran aims to obtain. Last year, American President George W. Bush said that he would not exit the White House leaving behind a nuclear Iran.
Analysts in Washington assert that they “do not know whether Bush will leave a nuclear Iran behind or not.” They add, “It is all down to the president and he will make the decision.” I asked my interviewee, “Could Bush launch another war?” He answered, “The president is yet to decide but he may decide that not leaving Iran to relish in obtaining a nuclear weapon is a very important issue whilst other matters, accordingly, are not.”
No comprehensive regional war will erupt in the upcoming weeks or perhaps months however the sparks of such war are already visible. It is highly unlikely that Hezbollah would ignite this war as long as it is clear that its role is not only to defend its weapons in Lebanon but to not engage Iran in any war; the price of which could be its nuclear program and perhaps its regime as well. Such role is a great burden upon Lebanon.