Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. (AFP)

May 16, 2019

Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite forces will join the battle if Iran were to be attacked by the U.S. or Israel over its nuclear program, political analysts said Tuesday.

They say the spiraling tensions in the volatile Gulf region as a result of the U.S. military deployment to confront alleged Iranian threats, coupled with the toughening of American sanctions on Iran, were designed to force Tehran to the negotiation table.

But any American or Israeli attack on Iran to punish it over its nuclear and ballistic missile program and interference in regional conflicts might trigger an all-our war that would involve all fronts. This could include the generally calm south Lebanon front, with Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias joining the battle, the analysts said.

Washington has ramped up economic and military pressure on Iran, with U.S. President Donald Trump last week urging Iranian leaders to talk to him about giving up their nuclear program and saying he could not rule out an armed confrontation.

Amid rising tensions with Tehran, the U.S. announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a show of force to counter what it says are “clear indications” of Iranian threats to U.S. forces there.

A Hezbollah source refused to say what the party would do if Iran were attacked by either America or Israel.

“The situation in the region is sensitive and critical. America’s policy aims to push the region toward tensions and instability, with the intention of exerting pressure on Iran and bringing it to the negotiation table,” the source told The Daily Star.

But in one of his speeches, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned that all fronts – the Iraqi, Syrian and south Lebanon fronts – would be ignited if Iran were to be attacked by America or Israel. Nasrallah said Hezbollah, which is reported to possess over 100,000 medium and long-range missiles, had all the precision missiles it needed for “any upcoming war and to hit any target.”

Although neither Washington nor Tehran appears to be seeking war in the region, political analyst Kassem Kassir warned that things might spiral out of control as a result of the mounting tensions and exchange of threats between the two sides.

“There are fears that minor skirmishes between the U.S. and Iran might lead to an American attack against the Islamic Republic. Should this happen, all fronts, including the south Lebanon front, will be ignited and no one will be able then to foresee the scope and nature of the military battle and its arenas,” Kassir told The Daily Star.

Kassir said the battlefronts in the Middle East are intertwined. “This means that any war on any front will not be confined to one area,” he said.

Kassir recalled a speech by Nasrallah last year in which he warned that “hundreds of thousands of Arab and Muslim fighters” would be ready to fight against Israel if it attacked Lebanon.

This comes as tensions in the Gulf region rose to an alarming level this week, heightening fears of an imminent military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran amid an exchange of harsh rhetoric and threats between the two archfoes.

Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the U.S. said drones attacked one of its oil pipelines as other assaults targeted energy infrastructure elsewhere in the kingdom Tuesday, shortly after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia.

The assaults marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates Sunday.

The attack on the Saudi oil pipeline came two days after two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described as a “sabotage” attack off the coast of the UAE.

While Gulf officials declined to say who they suspect may be responsible, the U.S. has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.

While accusing fingers are pointed at Iran, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry warned against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” and “adventurism by foreigners” to undermine the maritime region’s stability and security.

Asked at the White House about the incident, Trump responded: “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens … I’m hearing little stories about Iran … If they do anything they will suffer greatly.”

Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and restored sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis.

Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal. An Israeli Cabinet minister has warned of possible direct or proxy Iranian attacks on Israel should the standoff between Tehran and Washington escalate.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely been reticent about the U.S.-Iranian standoff, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that, in the Gulf, “things are heating up.”

“If there’s some sort of conflagration between Iran and the United States, between Iran and its neighbors, I’m not ruling out that they will activate Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad from Gaza, or even that they will try to fire missiles from Iran at the state of Israel,” Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security Cabinet, told Israel’s Ynet TV Sunday.

Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University, said the U.S. military show of force in the Gulf region was intended to force Iran to the negotiation table. But he warned that any war with Iran would push Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite forces to attack Israel.

“The U.S. intends to force Iran to the negotiation table through the threat of war and economic embargoes. The idea is to suffocate the Iranian economy and build internal and external pressure to concessions,” Salamey told The Daily Star. “An additional aim is to lift up the price tag of Chinese and Russian support to the Iranian regime to an unbearable level as to yield a containment of Iranian power.”

“The U.S. show of force demonstrates strong resolve to curb potential Iranian threats against its bases in the region. Military mobilizations have remained limited without amounting to a preparation for a full scale war,” he said.

Salamey said that neither side has, thus far, expressed an implicit or explicit aim for military confrontations. “Therefore, it remains premature to suggest an imminent war despite the delicate situation and limited escalations on the ground.”

But Salamey cautioned that a U.S. attack on Iran could spark a global war.

“A war with Iran could quickly turn into a WWII&1/2. The sides and the geographic range of such a war may easily span to include the direct and indirect participation of at least 10 countries, including regional and super powers,” he said.

“Hypothetically, if Israel decided to participate directly or logistically in assisting American forces, nothing would refrain Hezbollah and other Shiite forces aligned with the IRGC across the Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese territories from targeting Israel,” Salamey added.

Iranian officials have warned that U.S. military bases and warships in the Gulf region would be targeted if Iran was attacked.

Trump is bent on throttling Tehran economically by cutting its oil exports after imposing new tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic to punish it for its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, its involvement in regional conflicts and its support for Hezbollah and other militant groups labeled “terrorist” by Washington.

Last week, Trump targeted Iran’s steel and mining sectors in his latest tough sanctions and threatened further action unless Tehran “fundamentally” changed its behavior.

The Daily Star

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.