Syrian policy, faster than Iranian policy, is driving the region toward war with furiosity. Much of this is a direct cause of the United States’ reducing pressure on the Assad regime at the same time Tehran gives Syria breathing room. The transfer of scuds to Hezbollah is part of a series of maneuvers on the part of Damascus to reassert its military influence and control over Lebanon that is nothing short of expansionary.
Since the opening given to him by the Obama Administration, Syrian pressure on Lebanese politicians has become unbearable. A dozen high-profile assassinations have occurred in Lebanon the last five years, prominently that of Rafik Hariri but hardly the climax of the killings. Without the US, Lebanese politicians are visiting Damascus with visited often arranged by Hezbollah. So far, the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and even Prime Minister Saad Hariri have felt the compulsion to visit Assad – often awkward and mafia-reminiscent politics.
Syria’s recent offer to control to help control violence between Palestinian fighters in Qusaya and Kfar Zabad needs to be seen as part of a strategy to make Syrian intervention again part of Lebanese political discourse. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea cynically commented on the Syrian offer, blaming Syrian training and funding of Palestinian guerrillas for the flare ups.
Michael Young, an opinion editor for Lebanon’s Daily Star, openly referred to the Scud transfers as an attempt to lay that groundwork on a more massive scale for redeployment. If Hezbollah were to start a new war with Israel, Syria could enter Lebanon on the premise of checking Hezbollah’s power, much as it did in 1976 in regards to the PLO.
His scenario is awkward, precisely because it overlooks the causus belli the Scuds might represent in regards to an Israeli offensive against both Hezbollah AND Syria. But it relates the concern that many in Lebanon have about Syrian plays inside of Lebanon regarding Hezbollah, Palestinian militias and threatening the political echelon. More than likely, the more Hezbollah continues to strengthen itself, the more Israel would consider attacking the militia, which might solicit extensive international pressure on Israel and force it to make consessions.
While the peace process would necessitate what Western countries would see as an Israeli withdrawal, Syria sees it as an opportunity to meet Israeli military contraction with Syrian military expansion. Israel’s best move would be to draw up its military contingencies while renewing pressure on Hezbollah and Syria diplomatically. With politicians in Washington clamouring for a change in the Obama Administration’s policy, it is an issue Jerusalem cannot led fade to the background.
Joshua Reback has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Rutgers University