4:03 PM, Dec 13, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
Yesterday, a rocket fired from southern Lebanon missed its target in Israel. Instead it wounded a Lebanese woman, hinting at a possible pattern of things to come. While Hezbollah contends that its weapons are to protect Lebanon from Israel, the reality is that the arms used to defend the resistance’s patrons Iran and Syria are likely to cause Lebanon yet more suffering.
Israeli security officials explain that the trajectory of the rocket shows it was aimed at Kiryat Shmona, a small Israeli city close to the border that was under heavy rocket fire during the 2006 war. Jerusalem holds Hezbollah responsible for this latest attack and warns that the militia’s “continuous playing with fire may lead to a security deterioration.”
It’s worth noting that Israel, most likely to avoid escalation, often chooses to pretend that Hezbollah is not involved in incidents originating from the regions that it controls. For instance, three rockets were fired two weeks ago across the border at Israel, but after the IDF responded with artillery rounds, the Israelis seemed willing, publicly anyway, to play along with the idea that the guilty party was a little-known Palestinian faction allegedly affiliated with al Qaeda—the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, named after Osama bin Laden’s Palestinian mentor.
Even before the organization announced that it had nothing to do with the rockets, it was clear why Hezbollah and its allies might want to frame the incident as a Sunni operation. The point was to show that if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad falls, Sunni jihadists will cause lots of trouble for Israel and the West.
In other instances, the façade is less elaborate. On Friday, a roadside explosion wounded five French UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon. French foreign minister Alain Juppé blamed Damascus for giving the orders and Hezbollah for carrying them out. Both denied responsibility for the bombing and chastised Paris. “We condemn such statements,” Hezbollah said, “which do not befit the foreign minister of an important country such as France.”
While France and others apparently see the recent violence in Lebanon as a sign that the troubles in Syria might be spilling over the border, there is another equally or even more dangerous possibility—it’s about Iran. The secret war that Tehran’s adversaries, largely the United States and Israel, are waging against the Islamic Republic is driving the regime to distraction. In return, the Iranians are testing redlines; the problem is that the regime may well wind up leading itself, Lebanon, Israel, and perhaps even the United States to an open war. All it takes is one rocket hitting the right target at the wrong time and Israel will no longer be able to afford the luxury of looking the other way.
Obviously the Syria and Iran scenarios are not mutually exclusive. The preservation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is a vital Iranian interest. And now, after holding off the opposition for nine months by killing 5,000 people, Assad may finally be facing an existential crisis. The international community, while united against the regime in Damascus, has held off from pushing too hard for fear of a vacuum in the wake of Assad’s fall. But the opposition has been consolidated under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council, led by Burhan Ghalioun, now working in tandem with the Free Syrian Army. The Obama administration no longer has any excuses for failing to throw its weight behind the opposition.
Maybe more important than potential movement on the international front is Assad’s domestic situation: Syria is going broke. As small as Syria’s oil production is (390,000 barrels per day), it still represents a major part of the economy and now three companies have stopped operations due to the latest round of EU sanctions. There are stories of cab drivers robbed and killed after crossing back into Syria with much sought after dollars withdrawn from Lebanese banks. The shortage of dollars suggests that businessmen are already betting against the regime’s survival by holding on to hard currency. Worse yet for Assad is that he is running out of money to pay the army and paramilitary forces that now have to contend with armed defectors from the military and not just peaceful protestors.