Iran and Hezbollah Stand Ready for War

By Jeremy Salt, crossposted from The greenville Post

Individually or collectively the construct known as ‘the West’ has had its foot on the neck of the Middle East and North Africa for more than two centuries. Occasionally the foot has been lifted but never voluntarily, only when ‘the West’ was no longer capable of holding it in place. Examples are France’s unwilling retreats from Syria in 1946 and Algeria in 1962, and Britain’s final loss of control over Egypt following the failure of the ‘tripartite aggression’ of 1956, otherwise known as the Suez War.

When they came to Palestine the Zionists packaged themselves as standing on the ramparts of civilization against barbarism. As ‘Western civilization’ had always been spectacularly uncivilized in its treatment of black and brown people, the Zionists were standing on the ramparts of Western barbarism, not civilization.

An existential moment seems to be approaching in Middle Eastern history.  The so-called West has dominated the region and North Africa since Napoleon landed a French army in Egypt in 1798. Since then, few countries that have escaped invasion, occupation, subversion and the overthrow of governments.

The record is seamless, continuing with the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria and the current confrontation with Iran. Ever-tightening sanctions imposed since the 1979 revolution are designed to implode the country from within, with military attack repeatedly threatened by the US and Israel.

Just as Hezbollah is ready for the next war so is Iran. The target of European subversion and intrigue since the 19th century, Iran has been threatened and punished with economic sanctions, assassination and subversion since it dared to take hold of its own future in 1979.

Unless and until this long historical cycle of violence across the region is broken, the Middle East seems doomed to suffer its repetition endlessly. At this juncture of history, however, the West is not what it used to be and no longer capable of imposing its will on the Middle East except at tremendous cost to itself.

The former imperial powers, Britain and France, are now no more than satraps of one power, the US, a single imperial power in noticeable decline. The costs of its war alone have been enormous. Since 2001 it is estimated to have spent $5.6 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and on combatting ‘terrorism’ in other arenas.

This is money every American knows – and Donald Trump said in 2016 that he knew – is needed for urban redevelopment and the upgrading of broken infrastructure and inadequate social services across the country. Furthermore, there is no American public appetite for more wars in the Middle East.

Conversely, as imperial decline approaches the point of imperial exhaustion, the determination of the ‘axis of resistance’ is strengthening. It is now speaking back to the West and Israel in the same dominant language it has always used, which of course is the language of force. In the mainstream media, this will be called ‘defiance’ rather than what it is, which is the rising determination of the people of the Middle East to determine their own future and finally shake off the fetters of external domination. The message being sent forth by both Iran and Hezbollah is that if the collective West and/or Israel dare attack again they will be ready for them.

The message being sent forth by both Iran and Hezbollah is that if the collective West and/or Israel dare attack again they will be ready for them.

This is not empty talk. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, always means what he says and only says what he means. No-one follows his statements more closely and takes them more seriously than the Israeli military command. He is an enemy who has earned their respect.

In June Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a $200 million RQ-4 high altitude drone, the biggest and most sophisticated in the US drone fleet. Although the US had only recently designated the Revolutionary Guard as a “foreign terrorist organization,” and although it claimed, falsely, that the drone had been flying over international waters, it did not retaliate. Trump claimed that he called an attack off when he learned that it would cause 150 civilian casualties. In fact, the real reason seems to have been that Iran passed on the message through a third party that if the US attacked it would immediately strike at US targets in the Gulf.

John Bolton and Benyamin Netanyahu have been pushing hard for war, against strong resistance within the US administration. If they succeed, Iran has warned that it will immediately close the Strait of Hormuz to all shipping and retaliate against US military bases and other targets in the gulf. Any war started in the gulf will quickly spread across the region, involving Israel. Conversely, any war started by Israel against Lebanon and Hezbollah will quickly spread to the gulf.

The effects will be felt around the world with an infinitely worse effect on the global economy than the energy crisis which followed the 1973 war, when Israel was caught napping in the occupied Sinai and would have lost the war but for Anwar Sadat’s betrayal of his Syrian wartime ally, Hafez al Assad and but for emergency arms shipments flown directly to Israel’s Sinai front by the US.

Hassan Nasrallah is showing such confidence that it has to be assumed that he knows something about Hezbollah’s weaponry that we don’t and Israel probably does not either. Very probably it is the capacity to seriously degrade Israel’s air power. This is an issue Iran and Hezbollah have been working on for decades, as it is the key to the outcome of any future war.

Hezbollah is far stronger now than it was when it humiliated Israel in 2006. It can fire enough missiles simultaneously to overwhelm Israel’s anti-missile systems. They can reach any corner of enemy territory. If Hezbollah is also capable of shooting down aircraft, Israel faces the prospect of starting another war it cannot win, with far worse consequences than it has ever faced in its history.

Israel has had one outstanding victory since 1948. This was in 1967 when it attacked Egypt and Syria, rendering their ground forces useless by destroying their air ccover before going on to occupy the Golan Heights and the rest of Palestine. It was this war that gave rise to the myth of Israeli invincibility, exploded only six years later when Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal and routed the occupying Israeli forces.

Israel’s 1982 war on Lebanon was more of an onslaught on a defenseless civilian population, a prelude to its massacres by air and artillery in Gaza. Close to 20,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, were killed in Lebanon before it was over. Given the combination of airpower, artillery, armor and the number of ground troops (80,000 to 100,000) Israel simply swamped lightly-armed Palestinian and Syrian resistance.

Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon lasted for more than two decades before being ended by Hezbollah in 2000. Since 1985 Hezbollah had vastly improved its capacities at all levels, including electronic warfare, enabling it to intercept Israeli communications and ambush and destroy even elite units. Unable to defeat Hezbollah and facing a rising tide of anti-war sentiment at home, the Israeli government finally decided to cut and run, virtually overnight.

Frustrated, Israel struck back in 2006, only to be thwarted again in an even more humiliating defeat. Its reserves were so poorly disciplined that commanders hesitated to send them into battle, but even elite forces such as the Golani Brigade were outfought by Hezbollah’s part-time soldiers. Even with total command of the air Israel proved incapable of seizing and holding territory only a few kilometers north of the armistice line.   Thoughts of advancing across the Litani river and taking on the professional core of Hezbollah’s fighting forces had to be abandoned.

The US held the door open for Israel week after week, giving it the time it said it needed to finish off Hezbollah. Suffering one setback after another, however, Israel was not up to the task. After 34 days it had had enough and retreated, leaving behind the wreckage of dozens of armored vehicles, including the supposedly invulnerable Merkava tank, destroyed by Hezbollah’s Sagger anti-tank missiles. Hezbollah had also taken the war to sea, crippling an Israeli warship in an apparent missile strike.

The unpalatable truth for the Israeli military command was that its ground forces had been outsmarted and outfought along Hezbollah’s first line of defense in the south.   Even with its air power Israel proved incapable of moving beyond this line.

In the years since 1982, as the weaknesses behind the myth of the ‘invincible’ Israeli armed forces have been gradually exposed, the enemies Israel has vowed so often to obliterate have been catching up, reaching the point of armed capacity where Nasrallah says Israel is too frightened to attack again.

He has mocked it for taking 13 years to discover tunnels Hezbollah had dug from Lebanon. In a recent interview with Al Manar television station, marking the 13thanniversary of the 2006 war, he taunted Israel by showing a map of all the strategic targets Hezbollah will hit along the coastal strip if Israel dares to go to war again. They include Ben-Gurion airport, petrochemical plants, arms depots and the ports of Tel Aviv and Ashdod (Palestinian Isdud).

*(Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in an interview with Al Manar TV, July 16, 2019)

Nasrallah referred to “game-changing” offensive weapons that could bring Israel to “the verge of vanishing.” They include drones and precision missiles but when asked whether Hezbollah also had anti-aircraft missiles he would not say, referring only to a policy of “constructive ambiguity.”

Hezbollah claims that it can reach any part of Israel with its missiles and is capable of inflicting massive destruction of civilian and military targets. A land invasion has also been planned, with Nasrallah saying Hezbollah has “several scenarios” for the penetration of Galilee by its forces.

Since 2006 Israel has repeatedly threatened to destroy Lebanon in the next war. The template would be Dahiyeh, the largely Shia suburb of Beirut, which Israel sought to obliterate from the air in 2006. Military, intelligence and political figures have all threatened that the next time around the ‘Dahiyeh strategy’ would be applied to the entire country. One Israeli ‘ defense official’ says that in the next war Lebanon will “experience” a level of destruction not seen since the Second World War. “ …. We will crush it and grind it to the ground.” (David Kenner, ‘Why Israel fears Iran’s presence in Syria,’ The Atlantic, July 22, 2018).

Nevertheless, behind the bluster and threats lies fear. No one but Hezbollah and perhaps Iran really knows the size and capacity of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal but US and Israeli estimates put the number at between 100,000-130,000. Hezbollah is capable of firing 1200-1500 missiles a day. In recent years Israel’s developing nightmare has been that these weapons would be launched in sufficient numbers and with sufficient accuracy to destroy civilian and military infrastructure and paralyze daily life. In fact, as Nasrallah’s confident remarks indicate, that point seems to have been reached.

Just as Hezbollah is ready for the next war so is Iran. The target of European subversion and intrigue since the 19th century, Iran has been threatened and punished with economic sanctions, assassination and subversion since it dared to take hold of its own future in 1979. Telegraphing their punches in advance, the US and Israel have repeatedly threatened it with obliteration.

The scholar Sayed Mohammad Marandi has written on Iran’s position in the face of these continuing threats (‘Iran faces US aggression and European hypocrisy but this time it’s ready,’ Middle East Eye, July 12, 2019). Basically, Iran has had enough. Writes Professor Marandi: ‘Repeated threats of nuclear holocaust and genocide by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Trump are deeply embedded in western civilization’s centuries-old tradition of colonization, mass slaughter and moral absence.”

Given the west’s record “there is no reason to expect that a declining and desperate empire will conduct itself in a civilized manner today.” Iran’s preparations include the development of a formidable arsenal of missiles, the acquisition of weaponry needed to fight a sea war in the gulf and the construction of underground military facilities.

Retaliation by Iran would involve the destruction of oil and gas facilities as well as oil tankers and other shipping on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz. Finally, “western establishment politicians and pundits seem to thrill at sending nations back to the stone age. But be sure that if there is war, this time around Iran and its allies will make sure they come along for the ride.”

As Professor Marandi, as President Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei have all made clear, and as Nasrallah has made clear, these current targets of the west are prepared to fight back with all the weapons at their disposal. This is not a question of the Iranian government or Hezbollah merely being punished but being destroyed, at a time, however, that the West – as led by the US – has never been in a weaker position to impose its will without incurring incalculable military and economic costs to itself.

If John Bolton and Benyamin Netanyahu get the war they want, Iran and Hezbollah, knowing that the object is their destruction, will strike back with full force from day one. The devastation on both sides would be massive, with the possible use of nuclear weapons part of the picture. A climactic point seems to be approaching fast in the history of the Middle East.


About the author
Jeremy Salt has taught at the University of Melbourne, Bosporus University (Istanbul) and Bilkent University (Ankara), specialising in the modern history of the Middle East.  His most recent book is “The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.)

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