Hezbollah and the US-Israel Strategic Relationship

President Obama is promising Jewish-American Democratic Party politicians that in the aftermath of the successful passage of the Iran nuclear deal, Iranian terrorist proxies will be dealt a severe blow. This could include the air-interdiction of Iranian missile supplies to Hezbollah at the Damascus airport in Syria. For the first time in seven years, Obama is drawing tough new redlines against Iranian encroachment into the broader region of the Arab-Israeli Middle East. But a very important question remains for everyone: Are the president’s new lines in the sand believable?

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, must also be asking himself the same question. How far will Obama go in order to strengthen his relationship with his traditional allies within the region? The answer to this question could determine just how long-lasting the Iran nuclear deal will become. Or if it will be signed in the first place. If Obama is true to his word, and a US no-fly zone is established in either Iraq or Syria, what would be the Iranian reaction?

For the Iranians the question of Syria has become an ideological-existential matter. Iran is a revolutionary Islamic regime whose raison d’etre is the advancement of Islam to the detriment of Israel. This would include the Jewish state’s eventual destruction as a sovereign member of the world’s community of nations. Hezbollah and the various Palestinian factions also play a prominent role in these Iranian revolutionary machinations. In his recent book, Palestine, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei singles out his long-term goal of using a West Bank Palestinian state as a stepping stone for just such an endeavor. But such a strategy is a far more distant proposition. In the immediate time frame, the future of Assad in Syria and his crucial relationship to Hezbollah and the Shiites of Lebanon are far more pressing matters for the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For both Washington and Tehran, the most important factor is leverage. In other words, who has the leverage? That’s what the Supreme Leader must decide. Would Obama really risk the nuclear deal in order to protect his strategic relationship with the Sunni Arab states and Israel? And what would be the reaction of Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, either as candidates in a close and tough presidential election, or as the successor to Obama himself? Would the Democratic Party risk war with Iran in order to roll-back Iranian influence throughout the region?

All along Obama has maintained that, in order to achieve a nuclear deal with Iran, regional issues must be strictly separated from the negotiations. But what happens once the nuclear negotiations are concluded? That’s what we’re all going to find out. And the game has already begun. In order to maintain his veto-proof minority in Congress, Obama has promised a regional toughness in policy toward Iran that is exactly a 180-degree about-face from the precedent established over the last seven years. Can the Democratic Party back down once again, like they did in 2013 when Assad of Syria was caught red-handed using chemical weapons? Then an Obama redline was erased, and a deep skepticism about US commitment set in throughout the Sunni Arab nations, and in Israel as well. Now after a nuclear deal, perceived by America’s Middle East allies as nothing more than a mere decade-long timeout before Iranian nuclear power, the US will either abandon its traditional allies or begin the long slog toward deterring Iran throughout the region.

There appears to be no middle ground for Obama and the Democratic Party. Either Iranian power over the next ten years will be rolled back, or it won’t. Because for Israel and the Arab Sunni states, the rollback has become a necessity. Israel simply cannot allow a power like Iran to be anywhere near its borders for any protracted period of time. Especially now, with the Iranians occupying four Arab capitals and the economic sanctions about to be lifted, the new Obama redlines must be tested, and tested soon. Hezbollah, Assad, and Iran are a far more dangerous concoction than the ragtag “army” of the Islamic State (ISIS). And as Iranian power increases, Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s crucial buffer zone, Jordan, could become susceptible to a Palestinian-Iranian alliance not unlike what the Supreme Leader envisions for the West Bank. Iran must be removed from Lebanon and Syria, and this process must begin within weeks of the final approval of the Iran nuclear deal.

The question remains: Who has the leverage, Iran or the United States? As Hezbollah goes, so goes the US-Israel strategic relationship. Is Obama really serious about Israel’s regional needs? Or is the maintenance of the nuclear deal more important to him than the rocking of the regional boat? Are Obama’s promises to the Jewish-American politicians in the Democratic Party real, or merely a ploy to extract their all-important votes to secure his so-called nuclear legacy? These very same questions will be asked in Tehran, as the Supreme Leader must decide whether or not to approve a deal which could shortly have devastating repercussions for Iran’s regional position. The Iranian leader must ask himself whether or not Obama will hold true to his word. In other words, will Obama sacrifice the Iran nuclear deal and Hezbollah for the sake of Israel and the Sunni Arabs, or vice versa?

This issue could be decided very soon. With Assad in deep trouble, it wouldn’t take much Israeli air-power to completely shift the balance against him. It could be up to Jerusalem to test the new Obama redlines, and the Republican Congress (who could decide to help) will be watching very closely. However, in the final analysis, it will be the Supreme Leader who will decide whether or not to accept Obama’s nuclear deal. For him, it is not just a question of sanctions or nuclear potential, it is also the region as a whole. Whether the president of the United States has made such a determination is not yet clear.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).