American Enterprise Institute
The Obama administration would like to move Syria into the camp of more moderate Arab states, but there is scant evidence that Syria is willing to give up its support for terrorist organizations. Like Iran, it remains a destabilizing and dangerous force in the region.
Key points in this Outlook:
- The Lebanese and Israeli border is calmer today than during the 2006 war, but the potential for regional conflict is great.
- Both the Syrian and Iranian governments have used Hezbollah to conduct proxy warfare against Israel.
- The Obama administration has tried to move Syria from a rejectionist state into the more moderate Arab camp, but there is no evidence that the engagement policy has worked.
The 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel took not only outside observers by surprise, but also Israel and the government of Lebanon. A day after an operation in which Hezbollah killed five Israeli soldiers and captured two others, the Israel Defense Forces struck Lebanese targets as far north as Beirut. Over subsequent days, the Israeli Air Force bombed Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods in Beirut and struck targets in the country's north.
U.S., European, and Arab diplomats scrambled to prevent the spread of hostilities. While Arab governments remained conspicuously silent, unwilling to support Hezbollah publicly, if at all, Iranian authorities egged on the militia. Speaking six days after the war began, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the speaker of Iran's parliament, declared, "To Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah's secretary general] we say, well done. This religious scholar roars like a lion, and the blood of Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini rages in his veins." Iran's supreme leader encouraged Hezbollah to keep fighting. According to Nasrallah, Ali Khamenei sent him a letter two days after the war began, which stated, "You have a hard war ahead, but if you resist, you will triumph."
United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1701 restored calm, but only a tenuous one. While the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) returned to Lebanon, it failed to prevent the resupply of Hezbollah with an arsenal even more advanced than before the 2006 conflict. The Lebanese and Israeli border may be calm today, but the potential for regional conflict has only grown. If a new conflict erupts, it likely will be deadlier and harder to contain to Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah now possesses missiles capable of striking not only Haifa, but also Tel Aviv.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reached out diplomatically to both Syria and Iran in the belief that a less confrontational approach to conflict resolution might lead the two states to reconsider their rejectionist behavior. It has not worked. While Tehran and Damascus may welcome the incentives inherent in U.S. engagement, both states continue to use proxies to pursue radical aims and undercut stability. Iran may be Hezbollah's chief patron, but Syria is the lynchpin that makes Iranian support for foreign fighters possible. While Israel may be the immediate target of the Iran-Syria nexus, the partnership threatens broader U.S. interests.