Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s November 4 resignation was reported as the latest development in a Middle East power struggle between Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia. That conflict already featured coalition and proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and growing Iranian influence in Iraq.
Hezbollah claimed the Saudis hoped Israel would help them by striking it, the Lebanese “Party of God,” on its home territory. Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006, sparked by the latter’s deadly raid into Israel to kidnap soldiers and accompanying launch of hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilian and military targets.
But not just Iranian strategic maneuvers—including efforts to complete a “land bridge” from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to Beirut—would underlie a second Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Ideology, specifically Jew-hatred, also would play a role.
Both Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, use Nazi-like language and imagery in describing Jews and their state. To the Third Reich, Jews were “bacilli” and “vermin” that had to be “exterminated.” Khamenei and Nasrallah describe Israel as “a cancer” that must be “cut out” of the Middle East.
For example, this February Khamenei, blaming Israel founding nearly 70 years ago for current Middle East upheavals and hallucinating that no people ever suffered more than Palestinian Arabs under Israeli control, termed the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor.” He called for a “holy intifada” to destroy it.
Khamenei is both consistent and insistent. In 2015, speaking at Friday prayers, he vowed that “if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help.” Israel is a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.”
Matthias Kuntzel, author of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism, and the Roots of 9/11 (Telos Press, 2007) and member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, cites Khamenei as declaring that the Jewish state is a “wolf-like and child-killer regime, for which the only solution is its annihilation and liquidation.” This came during Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas terrorists and allies in the Gaza Strip.
In “Iranian Antisemitism and the International Response,” his contribution to the 2015 anthology Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism, and Delegitimizing Israel, Kuntzel added that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—often described as a “moderate” or “reformer” in Western news media—had this to say about Israel in 2014: “Today, this festering tumor has opened once again and has turned the land of olives into destruction and blood and littered the land with the body parts of Palestinian children.”
Rouhani and Khamenei echoed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who, long before establishing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Republic in 1979, “viewed Israel through the prism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” according to Kuntzel. That is, as a base for an imagined Jewish conspiracy to control the world. This made the Jewish state, Khomeini believed, “a festering sore and a cancerous tumor on the body of the Islamic countries,” a “germ of corruption in the heart of the Arab world” and “enemy of all mankind.”
“…Tehran’s hatred of Israel is inextricably linked to its antisemitic worldview, including Holocaust denial and conspiracy fantasies,” Kuntzel warns. Failure to confront it endangers all Western states, he says. Ayatollah Khamenei ended his “wolf-like and child-killer” diatribe with the charge that “the defense of the crimes of the Zionists [lies] in the democratic and liberal regimes and in the logic of the most minimal moral values, in which there is not even a tinge of humanity.” In other words, to save Islam, the Arabs and all humanity, Israel and the West must fall.
This means former President Barack Obama’s optimism about Iranian rationality despite the antisemitism of its leaders was misplaced. Obama, interviewed in 2015 about the nuclear deal with Iran he was pushing, asserted:
“Well, the fact that you are antisemitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is antisemitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.”
Obama made the common—and among leaders dangerous—mistake of assuming pragmatic means will override extremist ends. Those for whom Jew-hatred is secondary at best to their beliefs and goals might not act on such hatred. But those, like Iran’s founders and leaders, for whom antisemitism is central to their worldview, will feel compelled to act on those views. Rational actions they may take in the meantime should be understood as preparation. David Gerstman examines Obama’s conceptual and policy error further in “Protests in Iran Undermine a Key Premise of the Nuclear Deal” in a post for the online Tower magazine.
Hezbollah and its apologists claim the movement is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. As if it were possible to deny statehood for the Jewish people while insisting on it for many others—and especially the Palestinian Arabs, a people unknown even to themselves until the 20th century—without somehow being antisemitic.
‘Notice I say Jews’
But Nasrallah at times has discarded that pose, for example saying, “If the Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” He’s also opined that “if we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.”
Sa’ad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was seen as Riyadh’s man in Beirut. His father Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister also considered close to the Saudis, opposed Syrian occupation of Lebanon. The elder Hariri was murdered in a 2005 car-bomb attack that killed 22 people. Massive protests led to withdrawal of Syrian troops, though not Damascus’ covert agents.
In 2010, a U.N. inquiry reportedly fingered Hezbollah and Syria for the crime. It indicted four men, two identified as Hezbollah members, the next year.
If Israel were to fight a second war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, it probably would be devastating to both countries. Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel has said improvements mean his forces could undertake in the first two or three days of conflict the same number of strikes made in the entire 34-day 2006 war. He warned that in any new fighting, residents of southern Lebanon should leave their homes since Hezbollah uses them as “launching bases for missiles and rockets.”
Ironically, defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by a combination of forces allied variously with the United States, Russia, Iran, and the governments of Syria and Iraq could make a second Israeli-Hezbollah war more likely. Israel has said its “red lines” for Syria include no Iranian or Iranian-allied forces (including Hezbollah) near the Israeli-Syrian border, no arms shipments from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and no raids into Israel.
Of all parties involved or interested in post-ISIS Syria, only Israel may be both able and willing to enforce those lines. Hezbollah has gained valuable experience fighting in Syria on Iran’s behalf to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah threats of or actual attacks against Israel, from Syria or Lebanon, would make holding those red lines more complicated for Jerusalem.
“The Party of God” has been consistently violent. A Hezbollah precursor calling itself the “Islamic Jihad Organization” blew up the U.S. embassy in Beirut in April, 1983, murdering 63 people. In October of that year IJO bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in the Lebanese capital, killing 241 service members and civilians. The U.S. State Department designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. More than one year after al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 destruction of New York City’s World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. killed nearly 3,000 people, Under Secretary of State Richard Armitage still called Hezbollah “the A-team” of international terrorism.
The long-range goals of the “Party of God” complement those of its Iranian founders, funders and trainers. These are safeguarding the Islamic Revolutionary regime in Tehran, expanding Persian-Shi’ite influence and if possible dominance over the Arab-Sunni Muslim majority in the Middle East, protecting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, ousting the United States from the region and eventually defeating the “Little Satan” and “Great Satan” of the ayatollahs’ ideology—Israel and the United States, respectively. It is not by accident that the slogan of Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! A curse upon the Jews! Victory for Islam!”
The Iranian-Hezbollah supremacist, imperialist ideology is one reason—Iran’s drive toward regional dominance is another—that Israeli leaders like the Air Force’s Eshel warn that in a new conflict Lebanon itself and not just Hezbollah would suffer widespread destruction. That’s because Hezbollah now dominates Lebanese politics and government, its militia is superior to the Lebanese military and it bases itself extensively among Lebanon’s civil population.
Before the 2006 war, Israel estimated the “Party of God” possessed 10,000 to 15,000 short-range missiles and rockets. Today the figure is put at 100,000 or more short- and medium range missiles, some with greater accuracy and larger warheads than available 11 years ago.
In 2006, approximately 500,000 Israelis temporarily evacuated homes in the northern part of the country. Israeli fatalities totaled 160, most of them combatants. Now it is assumed Hezbollah’s weaponry can reach virtually all of Israel and to much more destructive effect.
Lebanese deaths 11 years ago were put at approximately 1,200. Though many news outlets then, and some now claim most were civilians, Israeli military figures and other sources estimate at least half were Hezbollah members or other combatants.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted as part of the diplomacy that ended the 2006 war, requires, among other things, Hezbollah to disarm. In this it reiterated a provision of Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004).
Iranian and Hezbollah threats against the Jews and their state would seem to violate also the U.N.’s 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (General Assembly Resolution 260).
The “international community” has yet to see to these resolutions’ enforcement.
A key political-strategic lesson of the past century has been that when anti-democratic leaders and movements both threaten violence and possess the means to employ it, they should be taken seriously. The possibility of a second Israeli-Hezbollah war should be seen in that context.