Israel and Iran are in “direct confrontation,” Naim al-Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, warned on Tuesday.
His comments should be interpreted as a message to Jerusalem that the gloves are coming off in Tehran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is angry about alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria. The strike on the T4 air base on April 9 was a blow to Iran, more than just an attempt to do what some Israeli experts have called “mowing the grass” to reduce threats. Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir argued in a 2014 paper that “Israel’s strategy in the 21st century against hostile non-state groups, reflects the assumption that Israel finds itself in a protracted intractable conflict.” Use of force is designed to weaken the enemy, not to achieve “impossible political goals.” An impossible goal would be to remove Iran entirely from Syria.Why send the Hezbollah messenger? Because Tehran prefers to send mixed messages as part of its strategy. “Israel is trying to draw lines, limiting the ‘resistance axis’ and its freedom of action,” Qassem said. He claimed, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has in the past, that Israel does not want a real war. Hezbollah claims that its and the rest of Iran’s proxies and “axis of resistance’s” freedom of action will not be curtailed by Israel.Iran is still mourning the seven IRGC soldiers killed the air strike on its T4 base in Syria, including Col. Mehdi Dehgan, who led its drone unit. We know now that the February attempt by Iran to fly a drone into Israel was a greater threat than previously reported. It was armed with explosives and, according to reports, not meant to merely test or harass.Iranian regime media is playing up the Hezbollah comments. Press TV and Fars News both have it on their homepages, claiming “Israel won’t be allowed to set rules of engagement in Syria.” Press TV also is attempting to highlight Israel’s alleged violation of Syrian airspace and flouting Russian air defense in Syria, by claiming that Israel has said it will not have its actions limited in Syria.Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Monday that “sooner or later” Tehran will respond to Israel’s “hostile policies.”Should all this be believed? Hezbollah keeps saying that Israel does not want a real war. Hezbollah says that limits must be set on Israel’s actions. Tehran reports that Hezbollah wants those limits put into place.It almost seems like each one is passing the buck to the other, hoping to goad the other into taking action. And if not Hezbollah or Tehran, then they want to encourage Russia to do something in Syria to curtail what they claim is Israel’s impunity.
14 killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian airbase, April 10, 2018 (Reuters)