The Shiite axis enters crisis mode.
As Congress gets set to impose new sanctions on Iran and the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, Argentina’s indefatigable prosecutor, once again sheds the unwanted spotlight on the Islamic Republic’s overseas terror activities, the mullahs have been hit with yet more bad news. On January 18, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a convoy of military vehicles traveling on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with devastating effect.
The missile strike hit pay dirt and liquidated a dozen Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives including senior commanders from both organizations. The Iranians, already reeling from the death of Gen. Hassan Shateri in February 2013 as he traveled from Syria to Lebanon, acknowledged the loss of Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, a ranking officer believed to be a ballistic missile expert and indispensable to Iranian operations in Syria and Lebanon.
Hezbollah suffered an equally harsh blow losing six of its operatives including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the infamous Imad Mughniyeh who was on the FBI’s most wanted list before the Israelis separated his head from his shoulders in a daring cloak and dagger operation in Damascus in 2008. The death of Jihad as well as other senior Hezbollah commanders in the January 18 strike can be viewed as catastrophic for the terrorist group which has experienced a number of setbacks in recent months.
Hezbollah is now in crisis mode. Plummeting oil prices have adversely affected the group’s cash flow. Hezbollah has two primary sources of income. It runs a lucrative narco-terror operation in Lebanon’s Be’kaa Valley, exporting hashish internationally. But these funds are merely gravy for the organization which derives most of its income from the Islamic Republic. But the Iranians have been hard hit by plummeting gas prices brought upon by Saudi efforts to increase oil production thereby increasing supply and reducing the price of crude. Iran, already hurt by international sanctions, has been forced to cut back on its overseas mischief and Hezbollah has felt the pinch. There have already been reports of widespread salary delays and cutbacks. Israel’s devastating strike comes at a very inopportune time for the battered organization.
Just a few days prior to the strike, Hezbollah’s leader, perhaps in an attempt to increase sagging morale, risibly stated that his forces were capable of invading Galilee and striking beyond it. He also noted that his organization possessed unimaginable weapons. Now, the terror chieftain has egg on his face.
First, he must explain to an already war-wary domestic constituency why his forces are operating in a theater far removed from the Lebanese border. The presence of Hezbollah near the Golan Heights puts the lie to Nasrallah’s claim that Hezbollah operates merely to protect Lebanese soil from “Israeli aggression.”
More importantly, he must walk through the Hall of Shame and swallow his bombastic statements about Hezbollah’s military prowess and its ability to confront Israel. Nasrallah knows more than anyone that Hezbollah is incapable of responding to Israel’s body blow in any meaningful way for a multitude of reasons.
First, Hezbollah has committed at least one-third of its military resources to help prop up Iran’s lackey, Bashar Assad, whose beleaguered and demoralized troops are not faring too well. More than one thousand Hezbollah personnel have already been killed in that civil war. The last thing Nasrallah needs now is a two-front war and retaliation of any consequence would necessarily invite a powerful Israeli response.
Second, Iran views Hezbollah as its strategic arm. Iran intends to activate Hezbollah – whose rocket arsenal of 150,000 exceeds the collective total of most European powers – in the event of an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities. A full-blown war now without strategic purpose, would not serve Iranian interests. Moreover, Iran is in the midst of grueling negotiations with the West over its nuclear program and desperately desires to see the lifting of crippling sanctions. A war now would complicate its efforts and compromise its ability to come across as a reasonable actor.
Third, Nasrallah has still not forgotten his last adventurous fiasco with Israel in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah spin notwithstanding, the organization took a terrible beating in its 34-day confrontation with Israel. Nasrallah himself admitted after the war that he thought his organization’s provocations that led to hostilities with Israel were a colossal mistake, a candid and surprising admission from someone who is generally incapable of telling the truth. If war were to break out today, Israel’s response would likely dwarf its actions in 2006 and would almost certainly entail a large-scale ground invasion designed to deny Hezbollah a platform from which it could fire its rockets.
Some have speculated that Israel was unaware of the presence of so many senior military officials in the doomed convoy and that the Israelis were merely responding on a tactical level to what they perceived was an imminent border threat. Others have speculated that the Israelis thwarted a Hezbollah-Iranian effort to set up a missile base near the Golan Heights. Regardless of its reasons, one thing is for certain; Israel’s targeted strike struck a devastating and decisive blow against terror and has sowed paranoia and fear in the hearts of its enemies.
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