Syria, Lebanon, and Israel
Israel executed an airstrike on a Syrian convoy headed for Lebanon on Wednesday. Israel claims the convoy was carrying Russian anti-aircraft missiles and was meant for Hezbollah. Israel seemed to be acting on claims that Bashar al-Assad might seek to better arm Hezbollah so that the group would be well-placed strategically against Israel in the event of the collapse of the regime in Syria. Once again, chemical weapons come into the equation, as Israel fears that Hezbollah may in the future be equipped with some of Syria’s stocks. Hezbollah, a Shiite group deemed as a terrorist organization by the US, has been engaged in conflict with Israel before and regularly receives support from Iran through Syria. Assad is part of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism and a minority in Syria. If Hezbollah were to receive anti-aircraft missile, much less chemical weapons, it’s military capabilities vis-à-vis Israel would increase dramatically, changing the balance of power in the region.
However, instead of a convoy headed for Hezbollah, Syria says the strike’s target was instead a scientific research facility near Damascus that is dedicated to improving Syria’s defenses. The strike coincided with increased Israeli sorties into Lebanese airspace. The violations of Lebanese airspace have continued throughout the days following Israel’s airstrike in Syria, which reportedly occurred near the Lebanese border. Further north, the Syria conflict shows signs of spilling over even more to Lebanon. There are reports that an ambush on military personnel in the northern Lebanese village of Aarsel has left at least three soldiers dead (other reports say five or six). The soldiers were in Aarsel to arrest a fugitive suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of Estonian tourists in the Bekaa Valley last year. Aarsel, near the border with Syria, is also a refuge for Syrians fleeing the conflict, as well as for supporters of the Free Syrian Army and for rebels themselves. Lebanon has been historically vulnerable to conflicts in the region, and thus there are fears that the spillover from Syria will only get worse and may spark another civil war.
Syria’s allies Russia and Iran condemned Israel’s airstrike, and Iran even threatened retaliation, though the chances of attacks on Israel seem unlikely. At The Progressive, Moustafa Bayoumi blogs about why the recent airstrike could actually help Assad.
Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel underwent nearly eight hours of testimony at his confirmation hearing on Thursday. The hearing covered subjects from nuclear weapons and Iran to Israel and the Jewish lobby. The consensus is that Hagel performed poorly; some say it won’t matter, while others call for the withdrawal of his nomination. Nevertheless, no Democrat has announced anything but a “yes” vote for Hagel. If Hagel has support from Democrats in the Senate, he needs only five Republicans in order to be confirmed as the Secretary of Defense.
- North Korea is threatening to conduct a third nuclear test in response to sanctions imposed by the UN after the country launched a rocket in December. North Korea has reportedly covered the entrance to a tunnel at one of its nuclear test sites in an effort to evade satellite monitoring of its work on the widely expected test.
- A year after the launch of its Nuclear Materials Security Index, the Nuclear Threat Initiative has released a progress report detailing the changes in the world’s nuclear security environment in the past year. The original index itself will be wholly updated in 2014.
- The Center for Nonproliferation Studies has released a critical analysis of the disarmament, nuclear security, and nonproliferation questions Obama must address in his second term.