The US State Department is offering multimillion-dollar rewards for information leading to the arrest of two of the organization’s most important operatives. There is a $7 million bounty for Talal Hamiyah, who the State Department accuses of orchestrating attacks, hijackings and kidnappings targeting US citizens since the 1980s. Another $5 million is being offered for Fuad Shukr, who runs Hezbollah’s operations in southern Lebanon and plays a key role supporting Bashar Assad in the war in Syria.
The rewards are a reminder that the US-Hezbollah conflict has a history, and the new steps against them should be seen in that context. Announcing the rewards last week, Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, pointed out that before 2011 Hezbollah had been responsible for more American deaths than any other foreign terrorist group. He also said the US had reason to believe Hezbollah had plans for an attack on US soil.
There is also legislation before the US Congress to increase sanctions on Hezbollah by further restricting its ability to raise money and recruit, and by increasing pressure on banks that do business with it.
So it seems Hezbollah’s image from the perspective of its historical role is being promoted to the American public in case there is an escalation in action against the organization.
This means we can expect some changes in the region in the coming period, and it sheds some light on the most recent escalated rhetoric from Israel, whose Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Israel’s next war would be against Lebanon and Syria together.
On the surface, Hezbollah does not care about Israel’s threats. They continue to repeat the same symphony about the size of losses that would be endured by any party engaged in a military conflict with Hezbollah. Not only that, but Hezbollah actually mocks the campaign against it and considers it merely a verbal one, which will not be accompanied by any political or military action. The organization is also convinced that any new US sanctions will have no impact on its course. However, the reality is that Hezbollah is not based in a remote island, so they will be affected by the sanctions just as much as the people and the economy of Lebanon will be. These fears are a threat to the political settlement in the country, which is enduring setbacks every day.
It is also difficult to imagine the future of Lebanon, Syria and the region in general in light of current facts. The future governance of Syria is not simple at all. The Assad regime managed to gain control with the help of Iran on the ground and Russia in the air. So how will Syria be ruled under this equation? Will Hezbollah fall back to Lebanon? What are the implications for the future of the Syrian people according to the Iranian perspective? What will Israel’s stance be when it has clear plans to present to Moscow and Washington regarding Syria’s future? The current situation in Syria imposes Iranian influence on Syrian-Israeli borders, and it is well known that Tel Aviv will not accept that for long.
Tough new measures by the US and escalated rhetoric from Israel indicate that pressure on the group is growing and action is on the way.
All these factors will keep the victory of Syria’s Tehran-Moscow axis waiting, and the doors of war open. No indicators can help us predict what’s better, but Bashar Assad’s regime will not be able to rule Syria alone. Besides, having partners such as Moscow and Tehran raises the question: Will the direct presence of Tehran on the ground and Moscow in the air be permanent?
It is hard to see what Hezbollah’s role would be in the future of Syria, which makes the American escalation against the organization seem like a step toward something bigger that will address the regional situation, which is preparing for a new round of confrontation.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter @dianamoukalled