Jihad Mughniyah is buried under the same black marble slab as his father, Imad Mughniyah, the legendary Hezbollah military commander, at a special cemetery created by the Lebanese militia for its “martyrs” in Syria. Life-size posters of both men, dressed in fatigues, stand above it. During a recent trip to Beirut, I counted the number of the graves in the cemetery, a barometer of the price Hezbollah is paying to prop up Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. Mughniyah’s grave also reflects the impact of Israel’s quiet but escalating campaign to challenge Hezbollah and Iran in Syria. The younger Mughniyah was a rising Hezbollah star mentored by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after his father’s death. In 2015, he was killed, in an Israeli air strike on Syria, along with five other Hezbollah fighters and a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as their convoy neared the village of Quneitra, in the Golan Heights.
In the course of the civil war, Israel has launched at least a hundred military operations on Syria. Most go unclaimed, even though all parties know where they come from. The campaign has intensified in recent months as the civil war approaches its end game. Israel struck again on Monday in a pre-dawn raid on the T-4 military base, near Homs, in central Syria. The strike killed fourteen, including Iranian fighters.
Israeli strategy has shifted “as we realized that the Syrian civil war has been decided—and the victors are Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, as well as Assad,” Itamar Rabinovich, the president of the Israel Institute, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, and Israel’s former chief negotiator with Syria, told me. “Hezbollah and Iran have now embedded in bases in Syria, and they have recently become much bolder.”
Six months ago, there was widespread fear that hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah might disintegrate into a formal war on Lebanese soil, potentially far bloodier than their thirty-four-day war in 2006. Tensions have instead been playing out in Syria. Israel has hit a wide range of sites, including convoys of Hezbollah or Iranian fighters near the Golan, trucks ferrying missiles and rockets destined for Hezbollah en route to Lebanon, bases for Iranian drones, and an Iranian command-and-control center.
“We are facing now a determined decision by Iran to take advantage of the vacuum in Syria, the coming victory of Assad, and the defeat of isis to extend Hezbollah’s stand in Lebanon at the expense of Syrian territory, especially in the Golan Heights,” Amos Gilead, a retired Israeli major general who now heads the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzliya, told me. “This is a strategic threat. It’s an intolerable plan. We are trying to preëmpt them and protect Israel.” [Continue reading…]
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