A full-scale war between Israeli and Iranian proxies in southern Lebanon is approaching, a bipartisan pair of senators warned following a trip last week to the Middle East.
“Any time you leave a meeting where the major request is 'ammunition, ammunition, ammunition,' that's probably not good,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters while discussing his conversations with Israeli officials.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based terrorist group supplied by Iran, has stockpiled thousands of missiles that are being equipped with precision-guided targeting technology. At the same time, Iranian forces — with the assistance of Russia — have spread across Syria in support of embattled President Bashar Assad as he fights a civil war. That has heightened the military threat on two of Israel’s borders.
“This was the most unnerving trip I've had in awhile,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters in the Capitol.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., concurred. “The tempo, in terms of the potential for conflict in Syria, has gone up,” he said during the briefing. “I think it's important to put [Graham’s comments] in the context of a regional dynamic where the technological and the military and the developmental and the diplomatic pressure on Israel has gone up in almost every metric you can think of.”
Graham and Coons linked the brewing conflict to the crisis in Syria and faulted President Trump as well as European allies for failing to develop a strategy to reverse Russian and Iranian gains in the country. Graham said Trump has targeted the Islamic State in Syria while neglecting the broader geopolitical problems.
“I don’t see a coherent plan,” Graham said.
Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, is popular with Israeli officials. But even Israeli officials echoed that complaint about the lack of a plan, according to Coons.
“It was abundantly clear in our briefings [in Israel] in their view that the administration is not doing enough to push back on Iran, both specifically in Syria and in the region. And I'd say that's something we all agreed with,” he said. “We face a very difficult strategic question with ISIL close to defeated on the ground in Syria: What's our future role in Syria?”
Coons, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued that Trump should develop a plan for Syria that goes beyond the defeat of ISIS to prioritize the reversal of Iranian and Russian gains in the country.
“Russia and Iran in combination pose a significant threat to our vital ally, Israel, and to Jordan,” Coon said. “And, in the absence of the United States, I think we'd pretty quickly see the Assad regime, Iranian forces, and Russia dominating virtually all of Syria.”
If Trump and or other world leaders can’t mitigate the Hezbollah threat in southern Lebanon, the senators predicted a conflict that would produce a high number of civilian casualties, given the location of Hezbollah’s military installations.
“[The Israelis are] going to strike civilian apartment buildings, hospitals, and schools because that's what Hezbollah has done,” Graham said. “They've integrated their military capability to these infrastructures. So I just want to tell y'all that when the war comes — if it does come; and I hope it doesn't — it's going to be really bloody.”