CENTCOM chief: A war with Israel would not end well for Hezbollah

“I think it would be a great mistake for Hezbollah to try to carry out operations against Israel. I can’t see that having a good ending.”

CENTCOM Gen. Kenneth McKenzie (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CENTCOM Gen. Kenneth McKenzie
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CENTCOM head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said it would be a great mistake for Hezbollah to try to carry out operations against Israel.
“I can’t see that having a good ending,” he said at a briefing during a major trip to the Middle East this week. McKenzie has visited Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait. The US general also acknowledged continuing tensions in Syria and with Iran across the region.
This is McKenzie’s first trip to the region since February. He visited Israel in November last year during the rising tensions between the US and Iran. Since February, US forces in Iraq have faced repeated rocket attacks by Iranian-backed groups, and the US retaliated with airstrikes in March. McKenzie has helped bring air defense to protect those troops in Iraq and has called the situation with Iran “contested deterrence,” meaning that the Islamic Republic is deterred from further major attacks, but harassment by Iranian-backed groups continues.
“I’ve had the opportunity also to visit US troops in eastern and southern Syria,” he said. “This trip also gave me my first opportunity to meet the new prime minister of Iraq. It was very important for me to get back into the region because some things just can’t be seen on a video teleconference, and I think face-to-face engagement is very critical.”
McKenzie went to Lebanon at a time of major tensions between Hezbollah and the US Embassy. A Lebanese judge recently tried to prevent US Ambassador Dorothy Shea from giving interviews, after she was accused of stoking local controversies with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a threatening speech last week, where he encouraged a confrontation with the US. America is also in hot water in Lebanon after airlifting a Lebanese American out of the country on a military helicopter in March.
It is in this context that McKenzie sought to both acknowledge that Hezbollah “remains a problem” and to recognize its role in Lebanon. He was tight-lipped on precisely what the US meant when he said “we recognize that it’s there.”
But he went on to warn Hezbollah against attacking Israel. “We’d be – I’d be blind to say we don’t see it [Hezbollah] there. We recognize that local people there in Lebanon have to make accommodations as a result of that. But I think it would be a great mistake for Hezbollah to try to carry out operations against Israel. I can’t see that having a good ending.”
ASKED ABOUT the recent mysterious explosion at the Natanz enrichment facility in Iran, the American general would not speculate on what may or may not have happened to the Iranian nuclear program. He said that in Syria, the US continues to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces in anti-ISIS operations.
He said Washington is seeking to create “local conditions that will allow security forces on the ground to be able to deal with these attacks from ISIS. It is not a bloodless future. Rather, it is a future that can be handled by local people, and we’re working very hard, up and down the Euphrates River Valley, and particularly east of the Euphrates River Valley, with our partners there, to ensure that local security forces are in place and will be able to prevent this.”
McKenzie also detailed recent incidents with the Russians and Syrian regime forces in eastern Syria. He said that by using proper channels with the Russians, they have been responsive to issues in eastern Syria. “I am comfortable with where we are right now.”
The US general also said he was aware of reports of Iran establishing military bases for missiles along the coastline of southern Iran.
“Iran has long had bases in – along the northern part of the coast there that could potentially threaten it. So we watch it closely. I’m not aware that this presents any particularly new or different threat than those that we have seen in the past, and I’m confident that through entities such as the International Maritime Security Construct, we’re able to ensure that commerce passes unimpeded, and we’re able to shine a spotlight on malign activities that occur,” he said.
US forces in Iraq continue to face threats from Iranian-backed groups. CENTCOM says that America and Iraq are involved in a strategic dialogue now and that it is entering a “second phase.” McKenzie said he hopes Iraq would see “the virtue of continuing to have US and anti-ISIS coalition forces in the country.”