WASHINGTON — Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, aided by Iran, is increasingly likely to wage war against Israel, and the U.S. should intervene to try to de-escalate the tensions, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., said Tuesday after a trip to the Middle East and Europe.
Graham said it was “the most unnerving trip” he had taken in a while and it’s “just a matter of time” before southern Lebanon strikes. He said Israeli officials told the seven-member congressional delegation that Hezbollah has built a manufacturing plant that converts rockets and missiles into precision-guided weapons. The Islamic militant group has allied itself with Iran.
The senators’ trip came only a few weeks after Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, wrote an article expressing concern over a precision-guided weapons factory in Lebanon. Manelis, said Iran has wanted to move Hezbollah’s missile production facilities from Syria to Lebanon to build a stronger arms base there.
Aaron David Miller, Middle East program director at the Wilson Center, said in a telephone interview that Hezbollah may have anywhere between 140,000 to 170,000 high-trajectory weapons. He added that the Israelis and Lebanese have engaged in “border confrontations” since the mid-1970s, though this is the first time in more than a decade that peace between the two nations is jeopardized.
“The real danger is a cross-border war,” Miller said. “It’s a war nobody wants right now but is driven by factors that don’t have remedies, including an Iranian determination to increase their presence in Syria.”
Israel previously threatened to bomb Lebanon’s missile plants, but Graham said officials now sought support and ammunition from the seven senators so they can prepare for war.
“If [Lebanon] keeps making these rockets that can hit the airport and do a lot of damage to the state of Israel, [Israel is] going to have to go in … by air,” Graham said.
Both Graham and Coons urged the Trump administration and the United Nations to take these threats more seriously. President Donald Trump told Congress a year ago that the U.S. has already spent $6 trillion toward resolving conflicts in the Middle East — money that “could have rebuilt our country twice.”
The need for U.S. support and intervention to deal with foreign threats was a common theme in the senators’ discussion with administrators and national security advisers in the four countries they visited, Coons said. Great Britain expressed concerns over Russia’s efforts to meddle in its politics, while Jordan worried about Russian interference in its economy. Greek officials said they feel threatened by Turkey on the military front.
Graham said Russia and Iran are taking advantage of the Syrian migration crisis to attack their opponents and are currently “winning.” But he hopes the U.S. will soon aid Israel and Jordan, whose economy is stalled, to help resolve major international conflicts.
“There is a moment in time here where we could fundamentally change the politics of the Middle East, but it’s going to take American leadership first,” Graham said.