Intertwined fates: The Lebanon-Syria-Iran axis

Jerusalem has drawn red lines over the proliferation of strategic arms to Hezbollah.

Flags of Hezbollah, Assad's Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)
Flags of Hezbollah, Assad's Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)
The instability rocking Syria has caused three critical security arenas – Lebanon, Syria and Iran – to become more closely intertwined than ever before.
As has been widely reported, Hezbollah, acting on Iranian orders, has mobilized a significant portion of its fighting force to Syria to help secure a turnaround for the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Bolstered by highly trained Hezbollah fighters and Iranian support, Assad’s army has of late been making gains against the Sunni rebels – gains that could be seen most recently on Sunday in the town of al-Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon, where the Syrian regime began a new offensive.
Hezbollah will be seeking “rewards” for its contributions to Assad’s survival in the form of advanced Syrian and Iranian weapons. These include sophisticated air defense systems such as the SA-17 surface- to-air missile – a convoy of which, according to foreign sources, Israel bombed in Syria in January.
Also in Hezbollah’s sights are missiles such as Iran’s guided Fateh-110, several of which were reportedly destroyed in Damascus by Israel on two occasions in the past few weeks.
The strikes as reported were surgical, and thanks to Israeli deterrence, have not resulted in retaliation. But the situation remains fluid, and what has held true until now may not necessarily hold up in the case of future strikes on weapons shipments.
Iran is seeking to exploit the Syrian chaos to continue to arm Hezbollah, because it knows that in any future potential clash with Jerusalem over Tehran’s military nuclear program, Hezbollah will be called in and ordered to turn its enormous rocket arsenal against targets deep in Israel.
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Hence, Jerusalem has now drawn red lines over the proliferation of strategic arms to Hezbollah in order to protect its home front in a possible future clash.
Syria, Iran or Hezbollah could, at any time, decide to test these red lines again, even though a gamble of that kind would endanger Assad’s recent gains against the rebels.
All of these factors have made the region a tinderbox, a situation in which one spark has the potential to trigger a multi-arena escalation.
Such a deterioration is by no means inevitable – or even likely – due to the Israeli deterrence that remains in effect against all parties concerned.
But it cannot be ruled out either.
And the evaluations above have not even touched upon the deeply sensitive issue of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
For many months now, the IDF has been preparing itself for this type of multiple-front scenario to ensure that it is ready for the unexpected.