Hezbollah, not Iran, might be Israel's biggest worry this summer
The situation in the Mideast region is becoming more complicated by the minute. Here, in a nutshell, are the facts, as we know them, in regards to the situation in the region at July's end.
In the fifteen years I've been covering security matters in Israel – and some might say that they're akin to covering thirty years of security matters in other areas of the world – I've learned two things; the first – Israeli involvement in the unraveling of affairs is much greater than presented to the Israeli public. Israel is not the eternal victim, and isn't merely fending off its neighbors' schemes against it. Israel has consideration of its own, often very different from those relayed to the public. And the second – that only in isolated cases, if any, do conspiracy theories have any relation with reality. The idea that one can explain events by some sort of hidden agenda is always more appealing than accepting the normal chaos which is the context in which states, governments and organization act, but in most no such hidden agenda can be found. The Shin Bet wasn't involved in Yitzhak Rabin's murder, and Benjamin Netanyahu didn't initiate the escalation in Gaza and southern Israel last summer in order to kill the social protest.
These two seemingly contradictory insights actually complete with each other. Level-headed journalists learn to suspect the daily spin circulated by the Prime Minister's Office at around 7:45 P.M., just in time for the evening news. On the other hand, not every event that unfolds these days can be explained by Israeli intentions to launching an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. It doesn't all add up to one single, perfect explanation. History doesn't repeat itself exactly. Iran 2012 won't necessarily be a repeat of the 1982 decision to attack Lebanon. Even wild accusations must be founded, even if it seems to journalists and bloggers that corroborating facts is so 2010.
Here, in a nutshell, are the facts, as we know them, in regards to the situation in the region at July's end:
1. Netanyahu and Barak are convinced that attacking Iran is the preferred course of action for the removal of the Iranian threat. They believe that time for an effective strike is running out, as Iran enters a state of "immunity," hiding its structures underground. In the past, Barak predicted that the window of opportunity for an effective strike will only last to 2012, but has recently refrained from referring to timetables. The IDF top brass and intelligence agencies apparently reject Netanyahu and Barak's approach, but, in all likelihood will comply with orders assigned to them, when and if the government decides to launch a strike.
2. The airlift of senior U.S. officials to Israel continues: Last week it was Hillary Clinton, this week it is Leon Panetta. The agenda of their meetings is the Obama administration's demand that Israel refrain from a strike on Iran until the presidential elections in November, and the two states' concern as to the possible transfer of Syria's long range missiles and chemical weapons after the imminent fall of Assad's regime.
3. The accumulation of evidence that Hezbollah, with Iranian aid and backing, carried out the attack against the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last week, just as it was behind the foiled plan to attack Israelis in Cyprus the week before. Prior to both incidents, Senior IDF officials warned Hezbollah leaders that the organization would pay dearly if it provokes tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border. Netanyahu accused Iran of being behind the foiled attack in Cyprus. His office published a similar accusation immediately following the attack in Bulgaria, but revised its position the next day, following a statement by Barak, saying that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was responsible for the attack.
4. As reported on Sunday morning, Israel is concerned that Hezbollah might carry out further attacks against Israelis abroad, attacks that cannot be prevented or thwarted due to lack of prior warnings and intelligence. The Sunday Times reported on Sunday that the Shin Bet is aiding British attempts to prevent an attack against Israeli athletes at the London Olympics.
All these developments may point to Hezbollah, even more than Iran, being in the center of developments in the region this summer. The possibility that Israel will strike Iran before the American presidential elections, but it might be preceded by an even more urgent matter. Israel is wary that Hezbollah's gamble on terror attacks abroad, coupled with the possibility that sophisticated weapons from Syria to Lebanon be transferred to it from Syria, could result in a conflict on the Lebanese front this summer. Despite his restrained policy vis-à-vis Lebanon in the past three years, Netanyahu might decide to launch a strike on Hezbollah as a means of deterring the organization or dragging Iran into the fray. Such developments could definitely influence events in Iran and Syria. In any case, the situation in the region is becoming more complicated by the minute.