Friday, February 16, 2018

The Dots Form a Picture

Secretary of State Tillerson met with Hezbollah allies in the Lebanese government. Is this a consultation designed to put the last pieces in place to increase the chances that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon will achieve something positive?

That's interesting:

Tillerson was expected to discuss the heightened tensions in his talks with the country's top officials, including President Michel Aoun, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — who all maintain close relations with the militant Hezbollah group. He is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The article notes a dispute over who controls some sea areas with oil and gas deposits. Could Lebanon be brought on board by an Israeli concession on this dispute?

I fully expect an Israeli attack on Iran's proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon that goes in big on the ground (with mechanized and airborne forces plus air and naval support, of course). It makes sense to harm Hezbollah which has bled heavily on behalf of Assad inside Syria before Hezbollah can regroup in Lebanon and prepare to use their massive rocket force in southern Lebanon to attack Israel.

For this to work, it would be a massive raid that lasts weeks or months to tear up Hezbollah's people, infrastructure, and stockpiles to make it too weak to flow back into southern Lebanon to rebuild their state-within-a-state once Israel withdraws back to their border fortifications.

The Israeli operation would also have to avoid attacking Lebanese forces or infrastructure to make it clear it is targeting Hezbollah and leaving Lebanon--with support from the until now worthless UNIFIL UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon--capable of filling the vacuum in the south to assert state control again.

If all goes well, Hezbollah is destroyed as a military force in Lebanon threatening Israel; Lebanon has a chance to be a whole country again; Iran loses a major proxy force; Hamas is more isolated, helping Egypt; Assad is weakened, helping Turkey and perhaps making them less difficult on the Kurdish issue; and Iran's planned Iran-to-Lebanon line of supply is mooted by that setback, making it easier for Iraq to resist Iranian pressure.

America and France have done a lot of work to strengthen the Lebanese army and government. An Israeli operation won't be worthless if it only sets back Hezbollah for many years. But to really make a military operation worthwhile, Lebanon has to be on board in practice even if they loudly complain about Israeli violations of their sovereignty (despite ignoring Iran's violation and the very existence of Hezbollah for so many years).

Could a gas and oil field buy that cooperation?

Mind you, this whole thing could be prevented if Lebanon could control all of Lebanon as a normal state can. But they don't. And that's a problem:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that Lebanon's security was threatened by the growing arsenal of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah and its involvement in regional conflicts.

Which is an interesting way to frame it. He didn't focus on Lebanese control of the area as the ideal. He focused on the reality of Hezbollah's use of Lebanese territory to build a massive rocket arsenal.

That arsenal does not threaten Lebanon in the sense that Hezbollah might turn them on Lebanon. No, the rockets are aimed at Israel. So the only way the rocket arsenal is a threat to Lebanon is because they can provoke an Israeli attack into Lebanese territory to get at Hezbollah.

I know, I know, I'm connecting a lot of dots. As I've done before on this issue as I did in my post I link and in other posts that post links to. Part of the problem is distinguishing between what makes sense to me and what is actually going on in the real world. I'm a history and poli sci major who has played strategy board games since I was 10. So it is hard not to look at the news without seeing them as defining pieces on a board.

UPDATE: Okay, that's gotta be a dot:

"So [because of the danger Iran's proxy forces pose] the time is now, we think, to act against Iran," [National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster] said.

If now is the time, who is getting ready to act?

UPDATE: Is a nod to the Palestinians an effort to help Arab governments mute public sympathy for Hezbollah?

UPDATE: There does seem to be "chatter" out there on an Israel-Hezbollah clash, if even pro-Iran Iraqi militias are boasting they'd support Hezbollah.

UPDATE: Is this a dot by showing a Russian effort to deflect an Israeli attack?

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered Russia's Defense Ministry to seek a military cooperation agreement with Lebanon. ...

And what does Lebanon get? "They want a protective umbrella against Israel," says Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

There is a question of whether this is accurate. But it adds to the "chatter," no?

UPDATE: Egypt aligns with Israel:

Israel has struck an "historic" contract for sales of billions of dollars' worth of natural gas to Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday.