Netanyahu must bear the consequences of Israel’s actions
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is risking taking his country to war on multiple fronts, as Tel Aviv was quick to acknowledge that it had carried out an airstrike against an Iranian position south of Damascus late on Saturday. On Sunday, Hezbollah claimed that two Israeli drones, one of which was carrying explosives and may have been targeting a senior militia figure, had crashed in Beirut’s southern district. Less than 24 hours later, the Lebanese government claimed that Israel had struck a Palestinian base near the border with Syria. And, also this week, Iraqi officials connected to the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) blamed Israeli drones for a series of mysterious explosions that have struck militia bases in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Israel and Hamas continue to exchange blows amid rising tensions along the borders of Gaza. On Sunday, Israel said it had intercepted two of three rockets that were launched from Gaza and, in return, Israeli fighter jets struck several Hamas targets north of the Strip. Netanyahu and other government ministers have been warning Hamas of a major punitive military campaign ahead of next month’s crucial elections, which will determine the political career of the Israeli premier.
While Israeli strikes against Iran-related targets in Syria are not new — there seems to be an agreement with Russia that such pre-emptive attacks will be tolerated — the targeting of PMF bases in Iraq represents a dangerous development in Israel’s strategy to confront Iranian threats. Last week, US officials, requesting anonymity, confirmed that Israeli drones were behind the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.
Netanyahu was this week asked whether Israel would operate against Iranian targets in Iraq if needed. Without directly naming Iraq, he said: “We are operating, not just if needed; we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran’s plans.” Netanyahu’s escalation is seen by observers as taking his confrontation with Iran to new levels.
The timing of this latest escalation can only be tied to Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to win a historic fifth term as prime minister.
In defending Saturday night’s strike in Syria, Israel said it had foiled an Iranian attempt to launch “killer drone attacks” against Israeli positions. The target was said to belong to Iran’s Quds Force, which is under the command of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and is the overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Meanwhile, in a fiery response to the latest attacks, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the Israeli strikes against targets in Syria on Saturday had actually targeted Hezbollah and not Iran. Two Hezbollah fighters were killed. He added that the drones threatening Beirut were “very, very dangerous” and were the first attack since the end of the Israel-Hezbollah War on Aug. 14, 2006. Nasrallah said this incident represented “a violation of the rules of engagement.” The Israeli attack was indeed a violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which set the rules of engagement between the two sides. Nasrallah vowed to carry out a quick and painful response; a threat that the Israeli government is taking seriously.
President Michel Aoun also criticized Israel’s drone strikes on Palestinian targets in Lebanon. “What happened is equal to a declaration of war and gives us the right to defend our sovereignty, independence, and the safety of our land,” he told the UN. “We are people who seek peace and not war, and we don’t accept that anyone threatens us through any means.”
The timing of this latest escalation can only be tied to Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to win a historic fifth term as prime minister in the coming elections. Any failure to form a right-wing government may increase the chances of him facing corruption charges that may lead to trial and imprisonment.
It is interesting that the US pointed the finger at Israel over the series of unexplained Iraqi blasts. Whether these strikes were carried out with or without US permission will have an effect on internal Iraqi politics and the ties between Baghdad and Washington. The Iraqi government has stated that it does not want to be party to the current Iran-US showdown.
The Israeli strikes against the PMF may have unintended results for Netanyahu. The mainly Shiite PMF were formed to fight Daesh in Iraq and were implicated in anti-Sunni atrocities. By targeting them, Netanyahu is helping rebrand the militias as anti-Israel, thus expanding their popular base. Pro-Iran former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki warned Israel of a strong response and said that, if Tel Aviv continues to target Iraq, his country “will transform into a battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran.”
The reality is that Israel has changed the rules of engagement with Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and now Iraq — not to mention Gaza. The danger is that two can play this game and Iran, which is unlikely to be affected by Israeli strikes, can still do harm and push for a new or even multiple fronts. Netanyahu must be ready to bear the consequences of his actions. In the coming hours and days we will see how Hezbollah responds to the latest Israeli breaches.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010