Israel has allegedly opened a new front in its attempts to halt weapons smuggling to Hezbollah, striking one of the group’s positions inside Lebanon for the first time since the sides fought a war eight years ago.
This week’s alleged airstrike, apparently meant to prevent the Islamic militant group from obtaining sophisticated missiles, is part of a risky policy that could easily backfire by triggering retaliation. But at a time when the Syrian opposition says Hezbollah has struck a major blow for President Bashar Assad’s government in neighboring Syria by ambushing al-Qaeda-linked fighters there, it shows the strategic importance for Israel of trying to break the Syria-Hezbollah axis.
Israel considers both Hezbollah and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to be grave threats. With a lack of good choices, Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian war, and in the short term, is content watching the two sides beat each other up. But in the long run, officials have expressed concerns about the battlefield expertise that Hezbollah has gained. Officials also suspect that despite repeated Israeli airstrikes on suspected arms shipments, Hezbollah has managed to get its hands on many sophisticated weapons, including Russian-made anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, ensuring that any future conflict with Israel will be far more intense than previous rounds of fighting.
Hezbollah rained some 4,000 rockets and missiles on Israel in 2006, mostly short-range, unguided projectiles. Israel believes the group now possesses 100,000 rockets and missiles. These include weapons with longer ranges, guidance systems and larger warheads, are capable of striking anywhere in Israel. The weapons come from Syria and Iran.
“Iran is handing out torches to the pyromaniacs,” IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said during a tour of the northern front this week. “I suggest that everyone keep in mind that underneath this quiet, a storm is brewing.”
Russia will establish a new strategic military command in the Arctic by the end of the year, according to local news reports.
RIA Novosti, citing a high ranking official in Russia’s General Staff, said the new force would be called the Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command. The news agency quoted the source as saying: “The new command will comprise the Northern Fleet, Arctic warfare brigades, air force and air defense units as well as additional administrative structures.”
The report went on to say that the Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command “will be responsible for protecting Russia’s Arctic shipping and fishing, oil and gas fields on the Arctic shelf, and the country’s national borders in the north.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made boosting Russia’s military presence in the Arctic an important priority during his third term in office. At a meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board last December,Putin said: “I request that you pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic.”
Other Russian officials have said that Moscow will reopen at least seven airfields as well as a number of ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic. Moscow has also begun enhancing its aerospace defense and early warning radars in the Arctic region. Last November the commander of Russia’s Aerospace Defense Command stated: “The expansion of [missile early warning] radar coverage is one of the key areas of our work, especially when it comes to [Russia’s] extreme north – we have already started the deployment of electronic warfare units in the Arctic.”
The Russian Navy has also made boosting its presence in the Arctic a key priority for 2014. In December of last year RIA Novosti paraphrased a Russian military spokesperson as saying that in 2014 “The Northern Fleet will conduct sailing and diving expeditions in the Arctic and develop a series of ice-class patrol ships to protect the country’s interest in the region.”
The Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command is aimed at bringing the disparate efforts of Russia’s different military services—as well as its coast guard presumably—together in a coherent manner.
The melting of the Arctic ice has opened up vast energy reserves and will create new strategic shipping routes that will have huge implications for geopolitics in the coming years. For example, the new shipping lanes produced by the melting of the ice will greatly reduce the distance between Asia and Europe as well as Asia and North American states like Canada and the United States.
Kerry also suggested that Israel keep 10 settlement blocs as part of any territorial exchange, according to Al Quds, the most widely read Palestinian daily, on Wednesday.
The Jordan Valley would not be part of a future Palestinian state, Palestinian sources told the paper, nor would there be an international force stationed there. And Kerry reportedly demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The report, which received no official confirmation, added that Abbas exploded with rage over the US secretary’s proposals, and described them as “insanity.” The PA president threatened to “overturn tables” and to go back on the flexibility he had shown in order to facilitate US-led peace efforts, according to Al Quds.