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Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War to Avoid Losing Election
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Every Israeli prime minister – not least Benjamin Netanyahu – understands that a military entanglement with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s armed Shia movement on Israel’s northern border, is a dangerous wager, especially during an election campaign.

It was Shimon Peres who lost to Netanyahu in 1996, weeks after the former prime minister had incensed Israel’s Palestinian minority – a fifth of the population – by savagely attacking Lebanon in a futile bid to improve his military, and electoral, standing.

Lebanon proved a quagmire for Ehud Olmert too, after he launched a war in 2006 that demonstrated how exposed Israel’s northern communities were to Hezbollah’s rockets. The fallout helped pave Netanyahu’s path to victory and his second term as prime minister three years later.

Netanyahu has faced off with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for the full 13 years he has been in power. But unlike his political rivals, he has preferred to play a cautious hand with his Lebanese opponent.

Which makes a recent spate of drone attacks by Israel across the region, including in Lebanon, all the more surprising, even in the context of a highly contested election due to take place next week. During the campaign, Netanyahu has been buffeted by yet more corruption allegations.

According to the Israeli media, two drones dispatched over Beirut late last month were intended to destroy Iranian-supplied equipment that would allow Hezbollah to manufacture precision-guided missiles.

It was the first such Israeli attack on Lebanese soil since a ceasefire ended the 2006 war. Hezbollah and Israel have preferred to flex their muscles in neighbouring Syria, weakened after more than eight years of war.

The attack outraged Lebanon’s leaders, with Nasrallah warning that Hezbollah would shoot down any Israeli drones encroaching on Lebanese airspace. He also vowed revenge, which finally came a week ago when Hezbollah fired at an Israeli military vehicle carrying five soldiers close to the border. Israel said there were no casualties.

That was followed by Hezbollah shooting down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon early on Monday. The Israeli army confirmed the drone had been on a “routine mission” when, it claimed, it fell in Lebanese territory.

In retaliation for last week’s attack, Israel shelled Hezbollah positions, a clash Israeli media described as being a “hair’s breadth” from escalating into all-out war.

Neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear to want such an outcome. Both understand the likely heavy toll in casualties and the damaging political consequences.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu appears to be stoking a fire he might ultimately struggle to control – and not just in Lebanon. Around the time of the Beirut attack, Israeli drones were also in action in Iraq and Syria.

First, Israel hit a building near Damascus, killing two Hezbollah operatives. According to Israel, they were working with Iranian forces to prepare a drone attack on the Golan Heights, Syrian territory annexed by Israel in violation of international law.

Then a day later, more Israeli drones – apparently launched from Azerbaijan – targeted depots housing Iranian weapons close to the Iraqi-Syrian border.

More strikes occurred early this week when 18 people were reportedly killed on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, and a further 21 Iraqis died a day later in an explosion in Iraq’s Anbar province.

There have been reports of more than half a dozen such attacks since mid-July. They are the first known Israeli strikes on Iraq’s territory in four decades.

The running thread in these various incidents – apart from Israel’s violation of each country’s sovereignty – is Iran.

Until recently, Israel had launched regular forays deep into Syrian airspace to target what it said was the transport through Syria of long-range precision missiles supplied by Iran to Hezbollah, its Shia ally in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Iran view this growing stockpile of precision weapons – capable of hitting key military installations in Israel – as a vital restraint on Israel’s freedom to attack its neighbours.

Over the past year, Israel’s ability to hit missile convoys as they pass through Syria has narrowed as Bashar Al Assad has regained control of Syrian territory and installed more sophisticated, Russian-made air defences.

Now Israel appears to be targeting the two ends of the supply chain, from deliveries dispatched in Iraq to their receipt in Lebanon. In the words of Netanyahu, Iran “is not immune anywhere”.

The US has not taken kindly to Israel’s actions in Iraq, fearing that a local backlash could endanger the 5,000 troops it has stationed there and push Iraq further into Iran’s arms. In response, the Pentagon issued a statement condemning “actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq”.

So what is Netanyahu up to? Why risk provoking a dangerous clash with Hezbollah and alienating his strongest asset, a supportive US administration headed by Donald Trump, at this critical moment in the election campaign?

The answer could be that he feels he has little choice.

The same weekend that Israel launched its wave of attacks across the region, French President Emmanuel Macron engineered an unexpected visit by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the G7 summit in Biarritz.

It was part of efforts by Macron, and Europe more generally, to encourage Trump to repair relations with Tehran after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement last year and reimposed sanctions. Netanyahu has taken credit for the administration’s tough stance.

Now he has been jolted by Trump’s apparent willingness to reconsider, possibly to protect shipping lanes and oil supplies in the Gulf from Iranian disruption, just as the US president seeks re-election.

Any U-turn would conflict sharply with Netanyahu’s agenda. Domestically he has long presented Iran as the ultimate bogeyman, hellbent on gaining a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel. His strongman image has been built on his supposed triumph both in reining in Tehran and recruiting the Trump administration to his cause.

If Trump indicates a readiness for rapprochement with Iran before polling day, Netanyahu’s narrative is sunk – and the corruption allegations he faces are likely to take a stronger hold on the public imagination.

That was why, as he headed to London last Thursday, Netanyahu issued a barely veiled rebuke to Trump: “This is not the time to talk to Iran.”

It might also be why a report in the New York Times last week suggested that Israel is contemplating a risky, go-it-alone strike on Iran, something Netanyahu has reportedly been mulling for several years.

Presenting them this week as “new revelations”, he also recycled old claims of Iranian nuclear activity predating the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the US.

Certainly, Netanyahu has every interest in using attacks like the recent ones to provoke a reaction from Iran in the hope of pre-empting any US overture.

It is a high-stakes gamble and one that risks setting off a conflagration should Netanyahu overplay his hand. These are desperate times for Israel’s longest-serving but increasingly embattled prime minister.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.


Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Hezbollah, Iran, Israel 
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  1. Smith says:

    Bad for him, good for the world.

    Now hopefully this doesn’t mean the jews packing to go back to Europe and America.

    • Replies: @medicis
  2. A123 says:

    Lebanon proved a quagmire for Ehud Olmert too, after he launched a war in 2006 that demonstrated how exposed Israel’s northern communities were to Hezbollah’s rockets. The fallout helped pave Netanyahu’s path to victory and his second term as prime minister three years later.

    And, having learned from that quagmire, ground troops would not be deployed. There is also a program with a U.N. “ground forces only” line in the way. Instead The engagement would be 99%+ air driven.

    The people who have the most to fear are the human shields living in Beruit. Once violent Iranian troops launch weapons from a site it becomes an eligible target. Given al’Hezbollah use of hospitals, schools, and other critical civilian infrastructure as weapons depots, Beirut would rapidly become uninhabitable pushing 1MM+ refugees North. This is really the largest constraint to Israel action. Russia and Israel are allies, and Russia doesn’t want millions of refugees flooding north into Syria surrounding Tartus. Russia and Israel would have to coordinate timing so that refugees flowed East instead.

    Something else to consider. 20 years ago Iran-Saudi relations were much better, and Israel had very few options to strike directly at enemy command and control in Iran. With current Gulf politics and improved military systems Israel has many more options. If Ayatollah Khameni orders an Iranian al’Hezbollah offensive against Israel, there would almost certainly be retaliation against Iranian oil refineries (2) and possibly against targets in Tehran.

    Over the past year, Israel’s ability to hit missile convoys as they pass through Syria has narrowed as Bashar Al Assad has regained control of Syrian territory and installed more sophisticated, Russian-made air defences.

    Assad has acquired one S300 control unit and four launchers. As pointed out almost everywhere, including pro-Shia sources such as Southfront and The Saker (1), this does not meaningfully limit Israeli capabilities in Southern Syria.

    Hezbollah and Iran view this growing stockpile of precision weapons – capable of hitting key military installations in Israel – as a vital restraint on Israel’s freedom to attack its neighbours.

    First strike munitions can only be used on offense. And, Israel correctly identifies this capability as a prelude to invasion or simply attempted genocide. Israel’s Iron Dome defenses have a good % shoot down capability. But, the only 100% solution is blowing up Iranian first strike weapons before they can be launched.

    So how would an Iranian first strike play out:
    — Can Iranian al’Hezbollah kill or injure hundreds, possibly thousands, of Israeli Jews? Yes. This seems likely.
    — Would the Israeli response kill tens of thousands and injure hundred of thousands of Lebanese Muslims, many of whom are Sunni not Shia? Yes. This also seems likely.

    It is hard to see how Iranian al’Hezbollah could lose 100:1 and spin it as a victory. Especially since many of the Lebanese casualties would be non-Shia that could easily turn on the Iranian forces.

    I willing to offer a deal. Iran regular and al’Hezbollah militia troops leave Syria in a verifiable manner. The number of Israeli strikes against Iranian targets deep within Syria would go to zero. Everybody wins. Except violent Iranian interests bent on exterminating Jews.

    A viable peace proposal. I can almost hear the inevitable howls of protest from the “Trolls of Team Iran” already….

    PEACE 😇



    (2) and do not seem to be cooperating on this insert map.

    If this shows as a broken link for you feel free to locate your own map of potential targets via your preferred search engine — “iranian refineries map”

    • Troll: AnonStarter
    • Replies: @B456
    , @peterAUS
    , @Rabbitnexus
  3. B456 says:

    A123 – As I said in another post, what an idiot you are. Either you are a troll or you are woefully misinformed.
    I’ll put forth one counter point: if Iran hated Jews so much that their current strategy is to make sure they can kill Jews, explain to me why such a large and prosperous community of Jews live and are happy to live in Iran. Certainly they would handle them first if they were so anti-Jew right?
    I guess maybe they just hate the violent colonial apartheid aspect of Israel.

  4. peterAUS says:


    ….pushing 1MM+ refugees North. ….

    Last stop Sweden.

  5. I never thought I’d say this but, good shootin’ Hezbollah! Send those downed drones to Iran for reverse engineering.

  6. @A123

    The same as those “Israeli” losers you think in a vacuum. Your entire analysis falls in its failure to take into account that from the first shot, thousands of missiles will be raining down on every corner of “Israel” and that will continue until the Zionist aggression stops. Those folks in Beirut are not “human shields” they are civilians living their lives. Since they cannot effectively get Hezbollah the Zionists simply bomb cities like the subhuman war criminals they are. Hezbollah restricts their operations to rural areas they do not use civilians as human shields. “Israel” does indeed use human shields. They place military installations in residential areas, they tie Palestinian children to the fron of gheir vehhicles when patrolling and they place their snipers and mortar crews on top of Palestinian houses often. If there is another war between “Israel” and Hezbollah the cowardly Zionists will be the ones to suffer worst this time.

    Don’t forget in 2006 Hezbollah deployed only 2000 of their second rank troops. They kept their experienced and main forces out of it. Today thanks to their efforts in Syria Hezbollah are vastly better armed and one of the most experienced combat forces in the world. The IDF has experience only as an occupation army.

    By the way Hasbara farmer. You do realise Jews have lived peacefully and happily in Iran for longer than the phoney “Israel” state has even been an idea in a bunch of Khazar crooks minds? The Iranian Jews are real Jews too, not converts from former goat f-ckers in the Caucasus.

    • Replies: @A123
  7. A123 says:

    . … that will continue until the Zionist aggression stops.

    How can an Iranian first strike be Zionist?

    I think you meant to say, “The fight will continue until Shia aggression stops.”

    Your entire analysis falls in its failure to take into account that from the first shot, thousands of missiles will be raining down on every corner of “Israel”

    Please try to be technically correct. Iranian al’Hezbollah does not have thousands of missiles. Iranian troops in Lebanon have thousands of unguided Katyusha style rockets. These are ineffective long range weapons.

    Based on history from previous Iranian al’Hamas and al’Hezbollah launches:
    — 70% will head to unoccupied lands and will be ignored
    — 10% will malfunction and fall in Lebanon potentially killing Muslims. Unpopulated areas of Lebanon will also be hit creating future unexploded ordinance risk.
    — 10% will head towards Muslim occupier cities in Judea and Samaria killing Muslims.
    — 10% will head towards Jewish cities and be engaged by Iron Dome. This system is far perfect. Several hundred warheads will land in Jewish civilian areas causing significant injuries and death.

    Both sides are tampering with GPS (1), so the tiny number of potentially accurate Iranian missiles will have to be launched with internal guidance only. Russian, Chinese, and U.S. munitions use “Ring Laser Gyros” for internally guided missles. Iran does not have that capability. Again, some Iranian missiles will get through killing a few tens of hundreds of Israeli Jews.

    You have provided no evidence countering the scenario most foreign policy experts anticipate:

    The Israeli response to an unprovoked Iranian first-strike offensive will result in:
    — Thousands of Lebanese Shia Muslims will die.
    — Tens of thousands (or more) of Lebanese Muslims will be injured.
    — Refineries in Iran will be damaged or more likely destroyed.
    — Bombs will fall in the city of Tehran. For every Jew that Ayatollah Khameni kills in Israel, 10+ Shia will die in the streets of Tehran.

    Remind me, how did the failed Shah depart for his failings? All rational observers agree. It seems likely that a failed Iranian Ayatollah will exit the world stage in a similar way.

    PEACE 😇



  8. Robert says:

    I guess Bennie the Rat has forgotten last time Israel got its ass kicked.

  9. medicis says:

    I am so tired of the ‘deadly few’. Let them rot in Israel. Indeed, send those here to Israel too. Especially the banking crowd.

  10. Or staging a false flag attack against Saudi oil facilities?

    Yeah, I know, I know. That’s crazy talk, but it is Netanyahu we’re talking about.

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