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  January 21, 2015

Israel Kills Hezbollah Leaders Ahead of Elections

Research economist Shir Hever says Israel's aggression is intentionally timed with Israel's elections, distracting the electorate from domestic economic issues
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Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Sunday, an Israeli helicopter strike in Syria targeted and killed leaders from Lebanon's Hezbollah. Major blowback could lead to reprisal attacks.

Now joining us to unpack the significance of this strike is Shir Hever. Shir joins us from Germany, where he's an economic researcher for the Alternative Information Center.

Thank you for joining us, Shir.


DESVARIEUX: So, Shir, just first explain for us what the members of Hezbollah were even doing in Syria.

HEVER: Ever since the war, the civil war in Syria started in 2011, there's been a coalition of forces that work together to try to topple the Assad regime in Syria. And the Hezbollah movement has decided to side with Assad against this coalition. And that also has something to do with the fact that Hezbollah is partially supported by Iran. And Iraq has also tried to support Assad.

Now, the interesting thing is that after years of fighting in Syria, the position of the United States has shifted. The United States' original position was to try to help the rebels against Assad. But when some of these rebels turned out to be an even greater problem for U.S. foreign policy in the region, namely, ISIS, the Islamic State, then suddenly it changed the political scenery somewhat. And Hezbollah is now, in a way, fighting on the side of the United States.

DESVARIEUX: And how so, Shir? Just really quickly.

HEVER: Well, they're supporting the Assad regime. The Assad regime is actually trying to fight against ISIS. And ISIS, which is now taking over large areas of Syria and Iraq, is now considered to be perhaps a more serious enemy of United States interests in the region. So, all of a sudden we have Iran and Syria and Hezbollah fighting on the side that is--you could almost call it the pro-U.S. side.

Hezbollah is a very well-trained group of fighters. They're not an official army. They don't have all the trappings of a Western army. But they've proven themselves quite capable in fighting the Israeli army in several wars, and they are being supplied with weapons by Iraq.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let's talk about Israel and their interests and motives behind this strike. How does this relate to the upcoming elections that are going to be happening in March?

HEVER: The very sad reality of the Middle East these days is that every time there's an election in Israel, people have to die for it in neighboring countries or in the occupied Palestinian territory. This is a repeating process that, unfortunately, we see with every election in Israel, because the various groups within Israel, the various political groups, vie for votes, and they know that they cannot give any kind of optimistic message on the social level. They cannot promise the Israeli public that they're going to improve their socioeconomic conditions.

So the main battlefield, the political battlefield, I mean, is who's stronger, who's the tough guy--usually the tough guy, but in some cases the tough woman. And in order to try to get many votes as possible, political leaders have to have enemies. They have to have some kind of clash.

And the recent war that Israel fought was a bombardment and invasion of Gaza in the last summer. And after that, the Israeli government became very unstable. Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu, called for an early election to take place in March. And so this March, the election is coming. But the distance between this summer of 2014 and the March elections of spring of 2015 is too big of a distance. I think Netanyahu is concerned that he's going to lose a lot of his popularity by that time. And he's already losing in the polls.

So this attack is directly related to the elections. I don't believe there would have been an attack like this, which puts Israel in great jeopardy. Of course, the main victims are the targets of the strike. Twelve people have been killed. But from the Israeli point of view, it is not a strategically wise attack, but it is maybe politically wise.

DESVARIEUX: Doesn't this strike also sort of breed this snowball effect of the retaliation? 'Cause I'm assuming Hezbollah is going to position itself to retaliate, Shir.

HEVER: Well, this attack has killed, like I said, 12 people. Six of them are senior Hezbollah people and six of them are senior Iranian military, including an Iranian general. And one of the members of Hezbollah that was killed is a son of a senior Hezbollah commander, who was also assassinated by Israel, murdered by Israel, effectively. So this has a very big symbolic impact.

I think Netanyahu may have not known that he's going to kill--that this attack is going to kill Iranian officers, as well as Hezbollah officers, but I believe that he was counting on this snowball effect, he was counting on a retaliation, because if Israel attacks and there is no response, then Netanyahu can say, well, I'm a strong military leader and I could attack Hezbollah and they're too afraid to strike back. This might give him a little bit of popularity in the polls in Israel. But if Hezbollah does retaliate and there's a state of emergency and there is a sense of threat and people are afraid for their lives because Hezbollah are armed with long-range rockets that could reach various cities inside Israel, then Netanyahu's political advantages can really shine. That's where Netanyahu can outmaneuver his political opponents and say, well, I'm the only strong leader who could lead his country in a time of crisis. This is a very calculated attack in order to try to change the political atmosphere in Israel, to push away from the headlines, the news headlines, stories about the stagnant wages and the rising cost of living and put forward issues of threat and fear where Netanyahu's forte is.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Shir Hever, very interesting analysis. Always a pleasure having you on. Thank you so much for joining us.

HEVER: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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