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Syria’s war keeps raging, amid threats of a new Hezbollah-Israel conflict

What began seven years ago as an uprising against the Assad regime has become a regional proxy war. Now there is talk of another war in the offing, one between Hezbollah and Israel. What would that look like, and how would it differ from the 2006 conflict? Special correspondent Jane Ferguson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the growing fears, Iran’s influence, and the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, this week marks seven years of Syria's civil war.

    What began as an uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad has become a regional proxy war. And one of the main combatants supporting Assad is Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group. Its operations in Syria, its relationship with Iran, and its power in Lebanon are a constant concern of Israel.

    And now there is talk of another Hezbollah-Israel war in the offing.

    With me now for more on this tinderbox is special correspondent Jane Ferguson, whom we have the pleasure of hosting here in studio. She's on a visit from her home base in Beirut.

    Jane, it's so good to have you with us.

    And there has been more talk recently of a possible war between Israel and Hezbollah. What does it look like?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    We have been hearing this talk for several years now. And it now appears both sides seem to acknowledge that a war could be coming, may even be an inevitability.

    And this is because, of course, Hezbollah have been growing in strength with the war in Syria. They have been gaining a huge amount of military expertise there and experience. And from the Israeli perspective, that strength that is unacceptable to them is very much so focused on the missiles that Hezbollah has.

    Israel sees these as an existential threat. Also, with the war in Syria, we see Iran's influence reaching right across to the Mediterranean. That's what they really want to secure. But it also means that Israel feels increasingly encircled.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, if there were a war, what would it look like? How would this be different from what we saw in 2006?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The reason that it would be different is also extremely — it's tied in with why the war hasn't started yet.

    Both sides know this war would be much more dangerous and much more destructive than in 2006. The Israelis have already said that, because of Hezbollah's growing influence and power in with the Lebanese government, that their what they perceive to be Hezbollah targets could be more open than what we saw in 2006, when we saw Hezbollah neighborhoods in Beirut being attacked.

    There's the potential for the greater civilian casualties this time around, as well as infrastructural damage. And for the Israelis, the risk is the missiles that could be launched inside Israel. So we could see both sides risk hurting a lot more in this war.

    And the other danger, of course, is that this war could become much more widespread.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Pulling in other countries in the region, potentially.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It's very difficult to imagine that this war wouldn't, simply because we see so many multilayered proxy wars going on already next door in Syria.

    As you have said, Hezbollah are inside Syria right now fighting alongside Iranian troops, their backers, their financial backers. And it's very difficult to imagine that you could see a war with Israel and Hezbollah that wouldn't draw in those other elements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's — just when we think, as we look and wait to see whether something develops between Hezbollah and Israel, we see what's going on in Syria. We keep thinking it's winding down. It's clearly not.

    We have been watching this terrible humanitarian situation in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. It just keeps going on.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The violence is continuing.

    As you say, people keep talking about this war, trying to end it, coming — winding down, but it doesn't really appear to wish to wind down.

    And what's happening in Ghouta is a huge humanitarian crisis, the likes of which we haven't really seen maybe since the siege of Aleppo, where civilians — even today, we're seeing thousands of civilians fleeing that area or trying to flee that area as the aerial bombardment becomes completely relentless, and has been for weeks now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are people surprised that President Assad is going after this area in such a vicious manner?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    I think not.

    After the last seven years and what people have seen, the use of chemical weapons, bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of hospitals, this isn't out of character. And now that the Assad regime has these opposition fighters surrounded, it's not unsurprising that they're hammering them in this way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Everyone assumes Assad comes out of this victorious?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Not necessarily. I think it's going to be more complicated than that.

    I think there are a lot of players that have influence in Syria right now, Iran, of course, and Russia, his main allies. But, you know, we heard today from the number two at Hezbollah that they will not accept a peace agreement that doesn't include Assad in charge.

    So — but, at the same time, it's very unlikely any opposition figures are ever going to accept Assad in charge post-peaceful agreements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just a horrific situation. And, as we said, It had gone on for years.

    Jane Ferguson, it's really good to have you here in the States for a while. And we look forward to more of your reporting from over there.

    Thank you.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Thanks.

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