It seems there is no prospect of a US-Israeli war against Iranian sway over Syria and Lebanon before major upcoming political and military developments unfold, i.e. before the Syrian regime and its allies grab more districts from the factions fighting in the Damascus suburbs and before the parliamentary elections are held in Lebanon on May 6.
Speculation over the outbreak of this war recently increased and some indicators hinted it was likely. The Israelis have been closely watching developments in the Damascus countryside and have said that Iran is getting closer to these areas.
Meanwhile, the US has included more hawks in its administration – hawks who believe that the confrontation with Iran has become a necessity. The most recent addition to the US administration was John Bolton.
Amman has openly expressed its fear that a major regional confrontation might take place close to its borders, in southern Syria.
The specter may not rise soon
However, there is a set of other indicators that point to the fact that a war may not be imminent, even though it may still be inevitable. The status quo on the supposed fronts, which are in southern Syria and South Lebanon, does not seem to be ending soon. Iran is moving in Syria in sync with the current status quo, and although it sometimes violates it, resulting in Israeli strikes, it still accepts the permissible allowances of this game. As for southern Lebanon, it’s in no one’s interest to break the truce which has been on for 12 years.
Tehran is expanding in Syria and approaching the borders with Israel which will not stand still and accept growing Iranian influence near it. Thus, the factors that precede a war are very much in play. There are checks and balances in southern Syria that no one has breached till now, although Tehran is pushing forward the proverbial envelopeHazem al-Amin
American enthusiasm to strike Iran in Syria is not enough, especially as Washington has no direct military wings there. If at all, it is going to be mainly an Israeli-Iranian war, with the former only seeking to secure its own interests.
However, it is difficult to argue against the inevitability of war.
Tehran is expanding in Syria and approaching the borders with Israel which will not stand still and accept growing Iranian influence near it. Thus, the factors that precede a war are very much in play. There are checks and balances in southern Syria that no one has breached till now, although Tehran is pushing forward the proverbial envelope.
The calculations of war are not only related to geographic aspects here.
The price which Tel Aviv wants in return includes Jerusalem, as striking Iran whether in Syria or Lebanon would serve other parties that are not present on this front. Israel does not work for free and does not miss a chance to ask for a price.
Unsaid rules of the game
The current status quo is maintained on the basis of unsaid equations, which depend on the frequent punitive air strikes against Tehran and its allies. These strikes allow both sides to manage their interests and needs. Israel through these strikes limits the danger of Iran building an arsenal near its borders.
Meanwhile, Iran absorbs the strikes and continues to declare itself as part of this borders’ game, although these are not its borders! Until now the American desire for this war does not seem enough to ignite the warfronts.
In recent years, Washington appears to have stepped away and turned into a player working from the outside. Its military presence in Syria is largely symbolic, mostly in the north and west of the country. Although it has eventually approached the desert, close to the southern front in Rukban, its presence remained mainly symbolic without much war-like significance.
Wars need more than symbolic messages and Israel would not accept to wage war alone. So far, Washington appears more willing to resolve the issues politically and not on the field.
Moscow’s influence also should not be underestimated. In view of this scenario, a confrontation does not seem imminent, although there seems to be no other viable scenario in the medium term.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.