11 February 2013, 17:08

Syria, Hezbollah? No, the target is Iran

Syria, Hezbollah? No, the target is Iran

Last week, the US took every effort to press its EU allies to brand Hezbollah a terrorist group. The pretext was presented by an indication by Bulgarian officials that this Lebanon-based group had been behind a fatal attack on Israeli tourists last summer. Two of the people involved in the attack allegedly belonged to Hezbollah.

As reported by The Washington Post, Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said at a news conference in Sofia that two of the three attackers had genuine passports from Australia and Canada. He said there was evidence that they belonged to Hezbollah's military wing and had been financed by the group.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement urging Europe to crack down on Hezbollah. "We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity," he said.

Hezbollah is branded as a terrorist organization in the US, Israel, Canada, Australia, as well as in a handful of EU states. The claim that its militants were involved in the terrorist attack in Bulgaria was made by the US and Israel soon after the attack occurred, and now seems to be supported by the Bulgarian officials. The group itself denies any involvement in the terrorist attack.

Since no arrests in connection with the attack have been made, it is difficult at the moment to verify the claims that two of the attackers were related to Hezbollah. If that is the case, it is strange that both had genuine passports where Hezbollah is banned as a terrorist organization.

In any case, the big question is why the US has bought up the issue of Hezbollah at this particular moment.

The US itself labeled it as a terrorist organization as far back as 1997. Even now, too many officials in the EU are of the opinion that Hezbollah does not have a military wing only, but is a political party – however unseemly its views and attitudes might be.

But the case of Hezbollah cannot be viewed as an isolated one. It is only a part of a much bigger game going on in the Middle East. The operation in Syria, sponsored by the West and its Gulf allies has taken a turn which is fraught with too many complications for its sponsors. As events in Egypt and even Tunisia have shown, the forces which have come to power as a result of the West-sponsored "revolutions" are much more difficult to deal with than the notorious "oppressive" regimes they replaced.

In Syria, with its patchy ethnic and religious composition, the course of events is even much less predictable. And, while reiterating the old motto that "Carthage must be destroyed" and Bashar al-Assad must be toppled, the West has discovered that it has absolutely no base in the future composition of power in that country, and therefore risks receiving just another Lebanon at best, or a new safe haven for terrorists, at worst.

This prompts the West to seek other ways and means of achieving their goals. While having too many reservations against direct involvement in Syria, and having no guts for a direct confrontation with Iran, the US has chosen the weakest link in the chain, which appears to be the most advantageous one in many respects. For one, the allusion of Hezbollah with terrorism has been repeated many times in every possible way – and "What I tell you three times is true." Therefore, the task of persuading the European allies to brand it as a terrorist organization does not seem to be too difficult to achieve. And once it is achieved, Syria and Iran will effectively lose an important ally, which will enable the US to go on with its offensive.

Indeed, the current campaign is not about Hezbollah. It is not even about Syria. While 2014 is inevitably approaching – and with it, the loss of the foothold in Afghanistan, the US is frantically trying to preserve its hold on the Great Middle East. Iran presents the biggest obstacle. But, as said above, at the moment the US does not have enough guts for a direct standoff and prefers playing cat-and-mouse by imposing additional sanctions, on the one hand, and calling for direct talks, on the other.

In the meantime, the aim is to deprive Iran of its allies and proxies in the region. The current campaign against Hezbollah presents clear evidence of the fact.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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