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The Syrian Ceasefire Exposes How Trump and Europe Have Abandoned Israel

Neither the feckless Europeans nor the incoherent Trump will help Israel thwart Iran and Hezbollah, and their drums of war

Amiel Ungar
Amiel Ungar
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The shadow of a paramilitary Basij member is cast on the image of the Israeli flag during the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran. June 23, 2017
The shadow of a paramilitary Basij member is cast on the image of the Israeli flag during the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran. June 23, 2017Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Amiel Ungar
Amiel Ungar

Prime Minister Netanyahu has announced Israel's complete dissatisfaction with the Syrian ceasefire negotiated between Russia and the United States as it legitimates Iran's military presence on its doorstep. Originally, the U.S. Russia understanding was viewed in Jerusalem as a way to end the refrain of Syrian mortar shells spilling over to the Israeli Golan Heights, automatically eliciting an Israeli response.

But the ceasefire means Israel might not yet have Iran in the same building - but we're far too close for comfort.

The Israeli government understandably wanted to keep Israel out of the fighting. Say what you will about Netanyahu, his entire track record shows that he's not interested in war, but he may be reaching the point that war is interested in him.

The Iran-Hezbollah plan has been laid out explicitly by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and backed up by the Al Quds Day demonstrations in Iran. To secure Israel's destruction, he foresees a human wave, the mobilization of volunteer units recruited from as far off as Afghanistan and Pakistan to open a war of attrition with us from the Syrian Golan. "We are coming," announces Hezbollah, in a Hebrew billboard across the border. Hezbollah is announcing its intention - and daring us to stop it.

On every anniversary of Israel's withdrawal in 2000 from Lebanon the media highlights it as a masterstroke. However, the underlying logic behind it was that once we were clear of Lebanon and had ended the "friction", Hezbollah would morph into a legitimate political force, as there would be no longer a need for "resistance".

Unfortunately this impeccable logic was disproven in Lebanon as resoundingly as it was disproven following the disengagement from Gaza. Hezbollah remains a proud member of the "Axis of Resistance," dedicated, like its Islamic Republic patron, to the destruction of the State of Israel.

One thing that we should have learned from the Iran nuclear deal is that if we are not prepared to take action ourselves we will be faced with a fait accompli. It is an act of delusion to believe that somebody will step up to thwart Hezbollah and Iran.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters onscreen during a rally marking Al-Quds day in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon. June 23, 2017Credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS

Can anybody believe that the feckless Europeans will step in? On the contrary, we can see the permit for Hezbollah Al-Quds marches in London and Berlin as epitomizing the European policy of splitting hairs between a military and civilian Hezbollah, a division even Hezbollah denies. We can see it in the recent agreement signed by Total to develop a huge Iranian energy project and the massive Airbus deal. As with Russia, Europe talks a good game, but its critical dialogue end before it can interfere with trade. UNIFIL is essentially of European units who have let Hezbollah turn the border into an armed camp in defiance of UNSCR 1701. Europe can offer "security guarantees" that when tested, are useless.

Then there is the hope that Russia will restrain Hezbollah. While a major accomplishment of Netanyahu has been the establishment of a military hotline to avoid aerial incidents with Russia over Syria, it's wishful thinking on our part to expect Putin to put Hezbollah and Iran on a leash.

Putin has a major investment in Syria that he hopes to parlay into an even more serious payoff. He has told his people that Syria demonstrates Russia is back as a global power, and is serving as a proving grounds for the weapons systems that have modernized the Russian army. But to supplement Russian airpower, Putin needs boots on the ground - and these are supplied by Iran and its proxies. They have access to Russia's arsenal, logistics and military skills. Those Iranian boots have won Tehran a privileged position in Iraq and Syria.

Then there is the United States, which has made some fitful gestures - such as the one-time bombing retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, coupled with a warning to the Assad army it would suffer if there was a repetition. The U.S. has also appeared to back its predominantly Kurdish allies when it downed a Syrian SU-22 plane bombing U.S.-backed forces and beefed up its presence in Syria.

Syrian protesters carry pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Beirut, Lebanon, July 24, 2011Credit: Bilal Hussein / AP

It would, however, be overly optimistic to count Trump to solve the problem. Even before a coherent policy has emerged from his administration, his opponents are mobilizing.

These critics range from the people who brought us the JCPOA under Obama, many of whom deceptively marketed the deal as an achievement that would enable the U.S. to push back against Iran in other areas. Now they have pirouetted to argue that sanctions over Iran's missile program and the actions in Syria risk upending the deal.

Then we have realists like Aaron David Miller who argue that since Syria is more important to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and of course Assad than it is to the U.S., they will eventually pay the price to prevail. America will abandon the fight and those counting on American backing will be left empty-handed. Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford predicted that the Kurds, who performed much of the heavy lifting against ISIS, would pay a heavy price for trusting the Americans.

This can be a starting point for a forward Israeli policy. Israel needs allies on the ground in Lebanon, and the valiant Kurds deserve our support, both morally and militarily. The Israeli peace camp has frequently argued that unless Israel launches its own peace initiatives others will dictate peace terms. That has not yet happened, but it is happening militarily in the north.

If Israel forsakes military options and alliances in Syria, we lose a seat at the table and will be left, vis-a-vis Iran, with either a Maginot line in the north, or total reliance on mutually assured destruction.

Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.

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