The Ambassadors REVIEW
Israel’s “Northern Front”: Relations with Syria and Lebanon
Barry Rubin, Ph.D.
Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel
Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal
he circumstances in the Middle East, including the situation on Israel’s
northern border, can only be understood in the shadow of a startling but
extremely grave reality: Israel is the world’s only country whose total
destruction is openly sought by other countries and powerful movements.
Threats to wipe out Israel are made on a daily basis. On September 27, 2008, for
example, the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, told a mass rally that all of
Israel is part of Palestine, “Palestine, from the sea to the river is the property of Arabs and
Palestinians and no one has the right to give up even a single grain of earth or one stone,
because every grain of the land is holy. The entire land must be returned to its rightful
owners.” Holy War, Nasrallah added, is the only way to achieve this goal.
Hezbollah is not a marginal group. It is part of Lebanon’s government, possesses a
large army, missiles, and the political-financial backing of Iran and Syria. In 2006,
Hezbollah launched several raids on Israeli territory, the last of which resulted in the
killing and kidnapping of soldiers within Israel.
From my perspective, Hezbollah’s behavior cannot be attributed to Israel’s holding
of Lebanese nationals due to previous terrorist attacks or to an Israeli presence on
Lebanese soil. Nasrallah’s above-quoted speech came after the prisoner release. Israel
withdrew from Lebanese territory—and was certified by the United Nations as having
done so—almost a decade ago. In my opinion, there is little hope for a diplomatic solution
given Hezbollah’s hostility to Israel’s existence. It also would seem that even the creation
of a Palestinian state would not diminish—and indeed might well intensify—Hezbollah’s
Many observers of the region have pointed to Iranian and Syrian influence over
Hezbollah as a major challenge to the peace process. Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad—most recently in his September 2008 speech to the United Nations General
Assembly—and Spiritual Guide Ayatollah Ali Khomenei have made clear their commit-
ment to Israel’s elimination.
Moreover, it has been noted that Iran has direct and indirect influence on Israel’s
northern border, both through Syria, its principal ally, and Hezbollah, along with some
military presence in Lebanon of its own. In the current Lebanese government, Hezbollah
has veto power over all important decisions. Within Lebanon’s military, there are
considerable pro-Hezbollah factions.