Regional ME Tension Rises After Israeli Raids

Israeli raids on targets in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon last week have increased tension in the region, with threats of an imminent retaliation by Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, following a double drone attack on its stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut three days ago.

Two Israeli attack drones were simultaneously shelled, alongside an Iraqi position belonging to the pro-Iran Popular Crowd (al Hashd al Shaabi), some 15 kilometres away from the Syrian-Iraq border on Sunday, destroying two trucks and killing two soldiers of the 45th Brigade operating in al Anbar sector, Iraqi sources confirmed. The para-military organisation boasts more than one million fighters and has played a key role in dismantling and defeating ISIS in most of Iraq’s territories, including the second largest city in the country, Mosul.

In Beirut’s southern district, two drones laden with C4 high explosives attacked Hezbollah’s Media Centre, causing extensive damage but no fatalities. One drone failed to explode and was brought down, while the other attacked the building housing the Media Centre. In a fiery speech following the raid, Nasrallah threatened Israel with a strong retaliatory response for breaking the status quo prevailing since the war in 2006 between the two arch enemies.

As for the raid on Damascus’ south eastern suburbs, Israel claimed that it had foiled an imminent drone attack orchestrated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps strong man, General Suleimani. Two Hezbollah fighters were reported to have been killed in the rocket attack, which targeted a house in the town of Aqraba, some ten miles south-east of the Syrian capital.

Why now?

While it is common knowledge that it is almost impossible and utterly unwise to isolate any military escalation, particularly in a volatile and extremely vital region such as the Middle East, some observers were quick to point fingers at the linkage between those raids and recent major advances made by the Syrian army and its allies in Idlib and Hama.

Others linked the escalation, especially with Hezbollah, to the Israeli Prime Minister’s difficult position in the upcoming Israeli elections scheduled for September 17th. Netanyahu needs a limited war, maybe, in order to bolster his position in the elections and avoid possible prosecution on corruption charges. Netanyahu will enter the elections amidst strong competition and rising rivalry over the top job by politicians like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish former Defense Minister between 2016-2018, who resigned over the ceasefire agreement with Gaza which he described then as ” surrendering to terror”.Lieberman was also former Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2009 and 2012, and again from 2013-2015.

Not if, but when and where?

Syria, Hezbollah and their allies, whilst vowing to retaliate and avenge recurrent Israeli attacks, are keen not to play into the hands of Netanyahu’s election-related plot. However, the general feeling here is that a retaliatory strike against Israeli military targets is only a matter of time; not if, but when and where? The strongest and most undeviating threat was that of Hezbollah’s supreme leader, who pledged a quick and painful response to the Israeli attacks, calling on Netanyahu, his soldiers, and settlers to “stand on one-and-a-half legs, and wait for us”, Nasrallah vowed.

On his part, Lebanese president Michel Aoun reacted by reiterating that his country has every right to defend itself, describing Israeli raids as “a declaration of war which entitled us to use our legitimate right to defend our sovereignty.” This was released in a statement by Aoun’s office following the Israeli raid on Beirut’s southern suburb.

Pompeo’s on and offs

In an effort to calm things down, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has asked Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad al Hariri, to press for calm and self-restraint, following Nasrallah’s outright threats to Israel. However, Pompeo had previously blasted Iran at a UN Security Council session on Middle Eastern security eight days ago, accusing Tehran and its allies, or proxies as he called them, of “fomenting terror and unrest with devastating humanitarian consequences” in conflicts in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Needless to say, the nations that Pompeo mentioned have themselves been the victims of terror and aggression by the US and its proxies in the region.

The US has been working on building a global coalition against Iran, and recent escalations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq following recent Israeli acts of aggression will do very little to help Pompeo and his White House boss in their relentless effort to muster such an international coalition against Tehran.  While a few have singled out one specific country in the Gulf, most fingers are pointing somewhere else, as to the source of tension and danger that could set the whole region ablaze. Russia has warned of a potential large-scale war looming in the Middle East; such warnings stand now on a pretty firm ground.