Military analysts generally believe that if Hezbollah were to attack Israel, it would get its butt kicked, and vice versa. There would be no gain, only pain.
CENTCOM head General Kenneth McKenzie reflected that opinion at a briefing during a major trip to the Middle East this week, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“I can’t see that having a good ending,” he said, after having visited Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait. The US general also acknowledged continuing tensions in Syria and with Iran across the region.
This is McKenzie’s first trip to the region since February. He visited Israel in November last year during the rising tensions between the US and Iran, the report said.
Since February, US forces in Iraq have faced repeated rocket attacks by Iranian-backed groups, and the US retaliated with airstrikes in March.
McKenzie has helped bring air defense to protect those troops in Iraq and has called the situation with Iran “contested deterrence,” meaning that the Islamic Republic is deterred from further major attacks, but harassment by Iranian-backed groups continues, the report said.
“I’ve had the opportunity also to visit US troops in eastern and southern Syria,” he said. “This trip also gave me my first opportunity to meet the new prime minister of Iraq. It was very important for me to get back into the region because some things just can’t be seen on a video teleconference, and I think face-to-face engagement is very critical.”
McKenzie went to Lebanon at a time of major tensions between Hezbollah and the US Embassy.
A Lebanese judge recently tried to prevent US Ambassador Dorothy Shea from giving interviews to local media (or face a US$200,000 fine), after she was accused of stoking local controversies with Hezbollah, the report said.
The ruling flopped as several local television channels ignored it and aired interviews with Shea in which she doubled down in her criticism, NBC News reported.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah also gave a threatening speech last week, where he encouraged a confrontation with the US.
America is also in hot water in Lebanon after airlifting a controversial Lebanese American out of the country on a military helicopter in March.
Amer Fakhoury, a New Hampshire restaurant owner, faced decades-old murder and torture charges in Lebanon. He was ordered released by a judge because more than 10 years had passed since the crimes he was accused of committing.
Fakhoury was detained in Beirut on accusations of overseeing torture and murder at a southern Lebanese prison during Israel’s occupation of the region.
It is in this context that McKenzie sought to both acknowledge that Hezbollah “remains a problem” and to recognize its role in Lebanon. He was tight-lipped on precisely what the US meant when he said “we recognize that it’s there.”
But he went on to warn Hezbollah against attacking Israel.
“We’d be — I’d be blind to say we don’t see it [Hezbollah] there. We recognize that local people there in Lebanon have to make accommodations as a result of that. But I think it would be a great mistake for Hezbollah to try to carry out operations against Israel. I can’t see that having a good ending.”
Lebanon is in the midst of its biggest economic crash in modern history with the local currency, which has been pegged to the dollar for decades, losing 80% of its value since October, NBC News reported. The prospect of widespread hunger is looming over much of the country as wages plummet, unemployment soars and prices skyrocket.
Asked about the recent mysterious explosion at the Natanz enrichment facility in Iran, the American general would not speculate on what may or may not have happened to the Iranian nuclear program, the report said.
He said that in Syria, the US continues to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces in anti-ISIS operations.
He said Washington is seeking to create “local conditions that will allow security forces on the ground to be able to deal with these attacks from ISIS.
“It is not a bloodless future. Rather, it is a future that can be handled by local people, and we’re working very hard, up and down the Euphrates River Valley, and particularly east of the Euphrates River Valley, with our partners there, to ensure that local security forces are in place and will be able to prevent this.”
The US general also said he was aware of reports of Iran establishing military bases for missiles along the coastline of southern Iran, the report said.
“Iran has long had bases in – along the northern part of the coast there that could potentially threaten it. So we watch it closely. I’m not aware that this presents any particularly new or different threat than those that we have seen in the past.”
According to The Times of Israel, a top commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said that Iran has built underground “missile cities” all along its southern coast, warning they would be a “nightmare” for Tehran’s enemies.
Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, who heads the IRGC Navy, said Iran has also constructed so-called missile cities offshore. He said the sites contain surface-to-air missiles.
“Iran has established underground onshore and offshore missile cities all along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that would be a nightmare for Iran’s enemies,” he told the Sobh-e Sadeq weekly, according to Reuters.