Fears that Iran and its proxies are pushing the Middle East toward war deepened today in the wake of several incidents and announcements.
The morning began with news that the Israeli Air Force had downed a drone, likely piloted by the terror group Hezbollah, over the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa. Analysts characterized the flight as a publicity stunt designed to deflect criticism over Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war. The group has poured thousands of soldiers into the country to fight on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and rebels have responded by attacking Lebanon.
Within hours of the news of the drone attack, U.S. officials revealed that the Bashar al-Assad regime — fighting on one side of that conflict — had used chemical weapons in its war against rebel groups.
Both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime are considered Iranian clients. Neither could sustain their activities without critical material and financial support from Tehran.
Hezbollah had previously piloted drones over Israeli airspace, and Iranian officials subsequently took credit for providing Hezbollah with the technology used in that incident. Iran has also provided drone technology to the Assad regime and to the Palestinian terror group Hamas.
As a publicity stunt, however, Hezbollah’s move may backfire. In addition to importing the increasingly bloody Syrian war into Lebanon, Hezbollah may now be seen as courting war with Israel as well. Lebanese leaders responded to Hezbollah’s last drone launch by blasting the group for risking exactly that. Hezbollah has yet to take credit for today’s penetration attempt.
Also today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel disclosed U.S. intelligence assessments concluding that the Syrian army has used chemical weapons against opposition forces. American intelligence officials had reportedly concluded weeks ago that at least some kind of chemical weapon had been used by Syrian forces. At stake is the so-called “red line” set by President Obama, under which the U.S. would take harsh action in the aftermath of chemical weapons use.
The news underscored the multi-dimensional dangers posed by Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, which is believed to be the largest in the world. The Syrian government’s willingness to use those weapons against its enemies, if confirmed, would immediately raise fears that Damascus will also launch them against Israel. Meanwhile, increasingly Islamist Syrian opposition forces are known to be seeking and may already have acquired portions of Assad’s chemical arsenal. Elements of the opposition have committed to attacking Israel after defeating Assad.
The Syrian government and the opposition have long traded tit-for-tat accusations that each is using chemical weapons.