Interview on RT Deutsch: Israel against Hezbollah

RT Deutsch – Dec. 12, 2018

Israel has launched a tunnel operation in the Lebanese border area against Hezbollah. In your opinion, are military tensions expected to escalate in the near future?

It is certain that the clash between Tel Aviv and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia will happen sooner or later, but the regional atmosphere in general does not encourage Israel towards a full-fledged war at this moment. The Syrian crisis is still unresolved, and the Iranian presence there adds to the complexity of the scene altogether. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu knows very well that any direct military action against Hezbollah now will open Pandora’s box. Iran and its militias in Syria will not remain silent, and the Iranian influence in Iraq makes the Iraqi territory another platform for launching rockets against the Israeli interior. The events of 2013 of the IDF against Gaza confirmed that the guerrilla war was more powerful than Israeli technology and airpower. Tel Aviv wanted to assure of its unwillingness to wage war against Hezbollah through the announcement of this operation and the non-concealment of its target. In this announcement Tel Aviv stresses that the scope of this operation will be within the Israeli territory overlooking Lebanese borders, and therefore it is a clear message to Hezbollah that Israel does not want escalation at this time.

Despite the deployment of new Russian S-300 air defense systems, Israel seems to be holding on to the bombing of Syria. What is the Israeli military’s goal in the face of Iran’s long-term presence in the country?

In the beginning, it should be emphasized that the S-300 system transferred by Moscow to the Assad regime is still inactive in the Syrian south. According to the information received, Moscow has deployed one in the area of ​​Musayaf, east of Hama city and another near the city of Deir ez-Zor in the Syrian east. So now Moscow finds itself in front of a tough step. The deployment of this system in the south of Syria means hitting Israeli aircrafts, while the failure of the system to respond to the Israeli air force will be a blow to its reputation. Here, I must stress an important point in this context. Tel Aviv began its training on the S-300 since 2014 on the Greek island of Crete. It also increased the level of this training during the past two months, while the diplomatic communication between Moscow and Tel Aviv has stopped since the fall of the Russian plane El 20. Despite Netanyahu’s attempt to meet Putin in Paris during the centennial of the First World War, the Russian president refused to meet him. The latest Israeli strike on the Damascus area, which targeted a number of sites belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, was an affirmation of the ongoing Tel Aviv strategy in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. Of course, there is no alternative military option to end Iran’s influence in Syria, but the solution is linked to what political negotiations will produce for Syria’s post-crisis future. It is likely that a compromise on economic sanctions imposed by Washington and the Iranian presence in Syria is one of the keys of these negotiations.

The three biggest geopolitical challenges in Israel are the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian activities in Syria. Which conflict is the highest priority of the Israeli security establishment?

Israel is currently standing on the threshold of new parliamentary elections whose results will determine trends in the region. However, Netanyahu’s policy regarding these three dangers is clear. He sees the political solution as the best for the Gaza Strip pending the implementation of Trump’s deal or the century and will continue the strikes against the Iranian presence in Syria with increased pressure on Washington through the Israeli lobby to find a political solution where Iran is outside Syrian territory. Until that, Netanyahu will not risk an open war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Netanyahu government has established close ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in recent years. How did this alliance change Israel’s position in the Middle East?

It should be emphasized here that these steps by Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not come as a result of the moment, but as a result of the regional atmosphere that Tel Aviv was effective in obtaining because of the expansion of Iranian influence in the region. This Iranian threat made the Sunni leaders reconsider the order of their regional enemies. Arab hostility towards Israel was turned to a necessary friendship to confront Iran and its hands in the region. This development has been positively reflected on the century’s deal which would be impossible without the consent of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The increasing normalization between the Middle East countries and Tel Aviv lately will give Israel a kind of relative political and economic security and the ability to start thinking about oil and gas projects.