The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Hizbollah’s Leader Says They Are Battling All Across Syria


The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has said his fighters would expand their presence in Syria, saying the group was engaged in an existential battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged for the first time that his Shia group was fighting across all of Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Picture of Hassan Nasrallah

Picture of Hassan Nasrallah

Years ago, I noted that Hizbollah needed to keep supply lines open to Iran, and thus had reason to support the Syrian government. That was a near-existential reason in itself.

And he called specifically on his fiercest critics in Lebanon to back his intervention across the border, warning that their support for Assad’s opponents would not save them from ISIL.

I think this is accurate. There is a weird idea that if ISIL conquers Syria it won’t move into Lebanon. Of course it will. ISIS is the Caliphate. As a matter of belief and ideology, their legitimacy is tied to expansion, and Lebanon is definitely part of the lands they consider as rightfully belonging to the Caliphate.

To not fight them will not save Lebanon if ISIL wins, and Lebanon is a heck of a lot easier of a target than Iran or Turkey. Thus, former prime minister, and leader of Lebanon’s anti-Hezbolla bloc, Saad Hariri’s criticism of Nasrallah’s speech and his movement’s intervention in Syria is nonsense:

“We in the Future Movement declare publicly that the Lebanese state and its institutions are legitimate and our choice and guarantee,” Hariri said in a statement. “Defending the land and the sovereignty and dignity (of Lebanon) is not Hezbollah’s responsibility.”

Well, I suppose the last part might be true. But it is laughable to suppose that the Lebanese army can guarantee Lebanon’s safety from an ISIL invasion. Lebanese who are old enough will remember how well the Lebanese army performed against the Israeli invasion. I am unaware of any particular reason to suppose they would do better enough this time to matter. (It is also true that Hezbollah is currently mostly fighting the Nusra front.)

These wars are also sharpening fighters throughout the Muslim world. They are becoming tougher and smarter. Hezbollah has already defeated the Israeli army twice, ISIL is fighting very well, and the same can be said of many other forces in the Muslim world. I will be frank: I believe that Western force’s edge now comes down mostly to military equipment, which means air power–open-field battle systems (i.e., shoot them before they are even in range of you) and surveillance systems.

I believe the Israeli military, especially, given its corruption due to being an occupying force whose primary job is to beat up, torture, and kill the effectively defenseless, is not even close to as good as quite a number of Muslim (non-state and ISIL) forces.

One really shouldn’t create the perfect Darwinian learning system for those one considers one’s enemies.

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  1. ibaien

    my real concern is that if those in charge of israeli defense are as aware as you are of their growing inability to slug it out with their neighbors, they will be that much more willing to preemptively deploy NBC weapons if they feel threatened.

  2. Your point about not creating the perfect environment to train your opponents reminds me of post-Peloponnesian War Sparta which did exactly that with its frequent invasions of Thebes. It didn’t end well for Sparta.

    That said, the fraction of the Israeli population with past military service is high, and the fraction of Arabs in Syria & Iraq who would take up arms to attack Israel is low even with IS in charge. More likely once Lebanon fell it would be on to Jordan and then Arabia and the other gulf states. Egypt could be the next target since Turkey and Iran are too difficult to attack. Of course if IS was in a position to take Arabia, no doubt the US would be forced to intervene.

    What a mess our “elites” have made.

  3. Dan Lynch

    Hezballah will need to watch its back. They could be vulnerable to an attack from Israel while Hezbollah soldiers are preoccupied with Syria. We all know whose side Israel is on.

  4. markfromireland

    I think James O’Keefe makes an important point that if they succeed in Syria and/or Lebanon that Israel is unlikely to be the next target. That in such an eventuality the next target is likely to be another Arab state such as Jordan or one of the Gulf States.

    I don’t think that Egypt will be a target simply because the military government now in power there has what appears to be a firm grip. (And yes “appears” is a caveat).

    I don’t agree that Turkey and Iran are too difficult to attack. But I think any such attacks would be on their peripheries.

    As to Arabia – I think that further attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Shi’i minority such as bombing of the Imam Ali Shia mosque in al Qadeeh are very likely. After that? Who knows. No doubt the USA would want to intervene. Whether it is capable of doing so effectively is another matter entirely.


  5. JustPlainDave

    This makes it sound like the IDF mauled LAF. Was there even a single engagement? I seem to recall the policy was to stay the hell out of the IDF’s way and let them deal with the PLO.

  6. Tom

    IS holds some ground around Arsal already. Its mainly presence though. Just some guys in positions guarding a smuggling route which they use to funnel fighters and weapons around. LAF leaves it alone so long IS stays out of Arsal City. If IS breaks into the Dumayr Plain, then IS may begin more operations in Lebanon, but not likely at the moment as they got a lucrative smuggling rout there and the Sweida Pocket might very well be first.

    As expected. Once Palmyra fell, and:

    The fall of al-Buysari, the Deir Ezzor defenders were basically up $%&^ Creek without a paddle.

    IS now has freedom to pivot once Deir Ezzor collapses. If the rumor al-Ithryia fell to IS is confirm, SAA’s forces in Aleppo are also cut off due to how the road network works.

    YPG has largely stalled out in Mabrukah in yet another months long campaign to retake what they lost in a week to IS despite massive US and SAA Support. In most cases of these back and forth fights, IS tactically withdraws and goes to small unit mobile groups, weakens YPG, then causes them to retreat again and starts another attritional struggle.

    This picture, however, is more concerning. Unlike IS who uses kids for propaganda shots far from direct fire engagements then gets them to safety, YPG is routinely throwing child soldiers at IS with predictable results. But if captured…

    Well IS showed with the Yazidis they released that they condone sex with 9 year olds.

  7. Stirling Newberry

    The core thing is that Israel is going to be, within a generation, a conservative state, and backed by other conservative states. This is going to mean that Jewish groups will be liberal, and Israeli groups will be conservative. And it shows by the willingness of commentators not to defend Israel on any front. The conservative commentators have one on this issue, though it will take a little bit of time for older people to realize.

    I, for one, am tired of beating a dead Israeli horse into the ground, though for management purposes, they need to go slowly for other groups to outrage about. But the younger people have gotten it.

  8. Peter

    Lebanon’s politicians have many problems to face but they can be divided into immediate and future threats. To exist as a unified State Lebanon must have central control of its foreign policy and all of its military. Hezbollah can and will never subjugate itself to control by the Lebanese State because it is an arm of the Iranian revolutionary movement and its goal is to establish an Iranian backed Islamic Republic in Lebanon.

    This is the immediate threat that Hariri and others in Lebanon are addressing now because Hezbollah’s actions are threatening to ignite another civil war in this war torn country. Hezbollah served a useful purpose and had widespread support in Lebanon when they successfully defended southern Lebanon against the Israelis but their support for the Syrian occupation and their military actions in Lebanon eroded that support to few outside of their Shia minority. Even some Shias are openly opposing Hezbollah’s adventures and Nasrallah was furious in his condemning them in his recent speech.

    The Islamic State threat to Lebanon is still in the future and a new civil war in Lebanon will create the ideal conditions for that conquest just as it has in Syria because at this stage of the conquest it is internal forces that are building the caliphate with assistance and leadership from the central IS entity. This is evident if you look at IS groups in Libya, Egypt, KSA, Yemen and many other areas of conflict. The liberation of Palestine will only be possible if Palestinians are the vanguard of that Jihad but first they have to rid themselves of Hamas and the PA.

    Nasrallah/Iran have become somewhat hysterical in their rhetoric about the IS now that they see that their pathetic propaganda and rumor attacks or their military interventions have failed to have any effect on the growth and success of the Islamic State.

  9. Ian Welsh

    It would be more accurate to say their policy was to not fight while Israel occupied South Lebanon for years.

  10. JustPlainDave

    As I recall it, they basically pulled everything back up to Beirut, entered a big training and recruitment cycle and then didn’t do anything much down south without the MNF / UNIFIL providing muscle for some time. Given that the whole grand strategy behind the MNF was originally training up LAF to fill the void down south after the IDF pulled out (we all know how well that worked out), I don’t think one should be taking their failure to go force on force with the IDF in that time frame as a particular datapoint.

  11. markfromireland

    JustPlainDave’s memory is entirely correct. They weren’t then, and aren’t now, a military force to be taken seriously. They look quite nice in full rig on parade. And they have sometimes done quite good civil pacification particularly in the North of the country but otherwise nothing much.


  12. markfromireland

    @ Peter May 27, 2015

    To exist as a unified State Lebanon must have central control of its foreign policy and all of its military.

    To exist as a unified state what Lebanon needs is a new Taif.


  13. Peter

    Michel Aoun tried to run that flag up the pole and the only salute he got was 21 shots aimed directly at his power play. I don’t claim to understand what passes for government in Lebanon but it is certain that having Hezbollah as a state within a state in Lebanon is a recipe for disaster.

  14. Tsigantes

    To us on the other side of the pond, ISIS is NATO/Israel. The Christian Lebanese hate the Syrians. Two reasons not to get involved

  15. Peter

    Confusion and belief in rumors seems to be an international norm that even the lack of facts and evidence can change. The ‘ISIS is NATO/Israel’ meme which is part of the pathetic propaganda and rumor campaign originating from Iran has failed to influence its target audience, those who might join or support the IS, although the IS has addressed this subterfuge in a recent video.

    In the West this false narrative seems to offer some comfort to Liberals and some Leftists who cannot comprehend this new reality or that cannot accept the idea that Muslims could be capable of plotting their own future course.

  16. Lisa

    Peter: Israel is supporting AN (artillary and air strikes plus medical support), Turkey (a NATO member) is supporting IS & AN and is the major gateway for supplies, weapons, reinforcements, etc plus a buyer of IS oil. Saudi Arabia is financially supporting IS & AN and is probably the source of all those shiny new US anti-tank weapons they all got recently (shipped via Turkey).

    The US (NATO member) is tacitly supporting (at least) AN and more quietly IS. You think they don’t know SA has sent those US weapons to IS&AN that they bought? That they don’t know what Turkey is doing? Heck the Israeli suport is so open even the Wall St Journal reported on it a few weeks ago….. Haartz has reported on it……

    US, UK and French (all NATO) trained the Syrian rebels…who turned out to be AN and later IS… Seymour Hersh blew the story about the CIA transfer of weapons from Libya, via Turkey to AN & IS.

    So it is fair to say that some NATO members, the US, Israel and the GCC have their grubby little paws all over this and have decided to go ‘all in’ with a Wahabbi Sunni takeover of the ME (provided they leave the US/Israeli supported Iraqi Kurds alone).

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