Israel made headlines for its support of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in their fight against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. This support included frequently bombed Syrian targets (and here and here) as well as providing funding, food and fuel to Syrian rebels. This seeming paradox is explained by the quarter century long hostility toward Iran that is at the center of Israeli foreign policy, which is now increasingly driving Israel and the U.S. into an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia, the Sunni kingdom that also single mindedly views Iran as its regional enemy.
Sima Shine, who is in charge of Iran in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, confirmed that Israel’s involvement in Syria was due to this regional power struggle when she explained that weighing whether or not to remove Assad from power, one should weigh in the impact his removal would have on Iran. “The ‘devil we know’ is worse than the devil we don’t,” she said, adding that the Israeli security community believes that keeping Assad in power is worse than removing him.
Israel hoped to see at least three things accomplished by the war in Syria. It wanted to see the Iranian umbilical cord cut from a devastated and divided Syria. It wanted to see Iran lose an ally and be further weakened and isolated. And it hoped to see Hezbollah impoverished and mired in the Vietnam like quagmire of Syria.
It got none of those things. But the war isn’t over. Because Israel’s war wasn’t against Syria, it was against Iran. That Hezbollah and Iran are on Israel’s borders is only a problem if Israel and its allies leave Hezbollah and Iran on Israel’s borders. And the pattern of events over the past few days reveal a strategy to turn the gun sights on Hezbollah and Iran. Israel backed the Islamic State over Assad to target Iran. It didn’t work. So, now they will target Hezbollah to target Iran.
Recently, two mysterious events illuminated the pattern that revealed Hezbollah in the Israeli’s sights. The first was the mysterious resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri. Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Hariri claimed his resignation was catalyzed by fear of an Iranian-Hezbollah assassination. But there was no plot to assassinate Hariri. The Lebanese army said “it had not uncovered any plans for assassinations in Lebanon.” So, why resign?
The clue may be provided by Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan who expressed Saudi Arabia’s desire for “toppling Hizbullah.” He promised that “The coming developments will definitely be astonishing”. He said that the desire was not just his own, and that people “will see what will happen in the coming days.”
The astonishing thing that happened is the resignation of Hariri in the midst of a Saudi royal purge of princes and powerful people. The resignation came just one day after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Kahmenei that was reportedly very positive. Velayati praised Hariri and reaffirmed Iran’s support for his coalition government. The Saudis say Hariri resigned because Hezbollah had “hijacked” his coalition government.
Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, says that the resignation was “imposed on Prime Minister Hariri” by the Saudis. Nasrallah says that Hezbollah did not want Hariri to resign. Hezbollah has been a part of Hariri’s coalition government for almost a year. Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, seems to share Nasrallah’s suspicion, insisting that he will not accept Hariri’s resignation until Hariri returns to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia because his “resignation must be voluntary”. There has even arisen in Lebanon suspicion that Hariri is being held under house arrest. Top Lebanese officials have now said that this is the belief of Lebanon. A senior politician who is apparently close to Hariri says that the Saudis ordered him to resign and has placed him under house arrest. Another person familiar with the situation has also said that Saudi Arabia is limiting and controlling his movement. On November 10, President Aoun told a meeting of foreign ambassadors that Hariri has been “kidnapped.”
Israel seems to have applauded Saudi Arabia’s Lebanese intervention. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and his statements are a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.” Netanyahu referred to an Israeli-Saudi alliance when he said that Iran was driving Israel into cooperative arrangements with what he called “the modern Sunni states.” He referred to “a new alliance between Israel and Islamic states.” “The good news is that the other guys are getting together with Israel as never before. It is something that I would have never expected in my lifetime,” Netanyahu added. Though he says he never would have expected it, it is the same message he delivered nine months ago when he said “. . . for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.” According to reporting by Israel’s Channel 10, a leaked classified cable from the Israeli foreign ministry to Israeli ambassadors reveals that Israel ordered them to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts and to rally support for Hariri’s resignation.
Iran has also suggested that Donald Trump and the United States approves of, and was even involved in, the Lebanese intervention. The royal purge and the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister came days after Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia on a trip that was not made known publicly.
While the alliance against Iran refocussed its sights on Hezbollah in Lebanon, it was simultaneously doing the same in Yemen. On November 5, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Houthi forces in Yemen. The missile was intercepted by Saudi Arabia’s American manufactured Patriot missile defense system. The Saudis accused Iran of providing the missile and ordering the attack. They then accused Hezbollah of assembling and firing the missile. Saudi Arabia has called the actions of Iran and Hezbollah an “act of war.”
The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, called the charge against Iran “baseless,” as did Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo. Even Saudi officials were calling the missile a Yemeni Burqan 2H missile when it was intercepted. The Houthis say that it was they who fired the missile. They say it was a response to a previous Saudi attack that killed 26 people.
Nonetheless, based solely on information provided by Saudi Arabia, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley called on the U.N. to hold Iran accountable for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by supplying the missile. She called on the U.N. to take “necessary action” against Iran. The Saudi ambassador informed the U.N. that Saudi Arabia was “taking appropriate measures to respond to these terrorist acts.”
These two fictions—the voluntary resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister and the Saudi accusations over the Yemeni missile—form a pattern that reveals Hezbollah as the potential new target in the Israeli-Saudi-U.S. war on Iran now that targeting Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has failed.