Syria may not be able to curb Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday, casting doubt on the feasibility of a long-standing Israeli condition for a peace deal with Damascus.
Syria, which pursued indirect negotiations with Israel last year, rejected the demand that it distance itself from Hezbollah and Iran. Syria, for its part, wants an Israeli undertaking to return the Golan Heights. Israel has balked at this.
Amos Gilad, a top adviser to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, told an international security conference at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center that Iran’s influence over Shi’ite Hezbollah appeared to be far greater than that of neighboring Syria.
“Hezbollah is an entity. ‘Hezbollahstan’ is much more powerful than Lebanon itself,” Gilad said, according to an official transcript of his speech in English. “If Iran gets the nuclear [bomb], for sure it’ll be more significant.”
“In the past, we could have packaged [a] deal with Syria that could include the terror in Lebanon, because the Syrians had their ways of convincing the Hezbollah to give up terror if they had the intention to do it,” Gilad said.
“Now ‘Hezbollahstan’ is so powerful, I’m not sure Syria could deliver this.”
Hezbollah was set up with the help of Iranian revolutionary Guards to fight Israeli forces that had invaded Lebanon in 1982. Hezbollah still has strong support from Tehran.