Israel’s New Dilemma in the Middle East
By Sarah Ann Haves
Headlines over the last few weeks have been uplifting for some Middle East observers. Two of those highlighted news events have been particularly groundbreaking:
“ISIS has been defeated in Mosul, Iraq.” And: “A brokered cease-fire between Russia and the U.S. in southwest Syria seems to be holding, paving the way for future cease-fires in the country.”
For those who think that one of the greatest threats in the world today is ISIS; and, for those who are seeking an end to the six year Syrian war that has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, this is all good news. But, for Israel it means future troubles ahead.
|…once ISIS pulled back
from Mosul, Shiite militias…
quickly filled the vacuum.
Certain facts are scarcely reported. For example, once ISIS pulled back from Mosul, Shiite militias that are connected to Iran quickly filled the vacuum. This now expands Iran’s influential land route in what has been described as the “Shiite Crescent” or the “Shiite Arc.” Across the Middle East from Tehran, to Mosul, to Damascus, to Beirut, and eventually to the Mediterranean, Iran is gaining territory. Iran is steadily taking control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, looking to dominate land and sea (especially, parts of the Mediterranean coast), in order to fulfill its hegemonic interests. Iran wants to push out all foreign forces from the Middle East region according to its military officials, as reported in the Iranian media.
Israeli Major General (Ret.) Yaacov Amidror previously served as National Security Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Amidror is currently a Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He spoke to journalists on a conference call in Jerusalem set up by The Israel Project.
Amidror indicated that Israel faces various difficulties. There is a big strategy the Iranians are implementing now, in obtaining a direct corridor from Bagdad to Damascus. This allows the Iranians to be much more involved with Hezbollah in Syria, and therefore, the security situation will be a different battleground for Israel. “We will have the Iranians on our borders with direct connections to Iran.”
Amidror claims that the supply lines will be long, but Iran will still be able to move resources effectively. “It is a huge change for the Sunni countries… and, will change the whole geo-strategic situation in the area.”
The locations are highly important for Iran’s tactical plans, and the implications of the Iranians building bases in Syria, along with Hezbollah, are game changers for Israel. According to Amidror, “Israel might face two battlegrounds – Lebanon and Syria – in which the Iranians and Hezbollah will have their infrastructure that can be used against Israel. And, in parallel, connected to the (Bagdad-Damascus) corridor, making it much worse for Israel.”
Even without the Shiite controlled corridor, it still provides Hezbollah and Iran with launching pads from bases in Syria. “And, Israel must prevent it, whatever the price. If that will not be taken into account by those who are making those arrangements – the Americans, the Russians, and others — it might lead the IDF to intervene and to destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria. We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win from the long and very brutal war in Syria, and to move the focus into Israel.”
|Iran already has approval
from Assad to build
a naval seaport on Syria’s coast.
Already, Iran has gotten approval from Syrian President Bashar Assad to copy Russia in building a seaport on the Syrian coast for its own navy vessels to dock. This would be under independent Iranian control. Iran also wants to establish an airbase in the area for its aircraft.
Reports indicate that Iran is further involved in reconstruction projects in Syria, building networks of communications, engaging in real estate and trade, hoping for financial gains and favor inside the country.
Meanwhile, the thinking of policy makers in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Administration has been to build up America’s presence in Syria, while helping to defeat ISIS, hoping that Iran will be prevented from achieving its strategic goals. But, this has resulted in a short-term policy without a clear long-term strategy. Or, maybe, America’s generals knew all the time that Iran would take advantage of the situation. U.S. General James Mattis has admitted that Iran is the most destabilizing influence in the Middle East. So, what is the Trump Administration’s long-term strategy in dealing with Iran?
U.S. foreign policy seemed to be working towards America’s interests in the Middle East when Trump decided to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, resulting in the recent cease-fire deal in Syria. However, what is coming out of this deal is greater Russian diplomatic and military cover for Iran to build its supply lines from Iraq to Syria. This is not in the context of defending President Assad’s interests in Syria; but, in order to give Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah, permanent bases in Syria under the umbrella of Russian support.
Furthermore, American influence in Syria seems to be waning rather than strengthening, as the U.S. takes the position as a passive partner to Russia’s interests. Trump may look like the savior of the Syrian people, proving that he can get along with Russia in an effort to end the Syrian war. His tweet at the time of the G20 summit confirmed this when he said, “We negotiated a cease-fire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now, it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia.” But, Trump’s recent efforts have been at the expense of Israel’s security interests in the region. Israeli officials are concerned that Russia will have sole control over the monitoring of forces in the southern Syrian border area. This limits Israel’s access to its enemies who could disrupt the fragile cease-fire by targeting Israeli defense forces.
Amidror says that until now, Netanyahu has avoided public opposition of the plans of both America and Russia. But, Netanyahu is now openly opposing the cease-fire deal. According to Amidror, “We are understanding the threats to Israel which emerged from this arrangement, which has been done without taking into consideration the need for Israel to defend itself… It is Israel’s responsibility to guarantee its ability to defend itself and we will have to take all the measures which are needed for that.”
Amidror claims that Israel tried to make everyone understand its interests. But, even though the Russians said before, and have said it again, that they are willing to consider Israel’s demands, Amidror says Israel may have to take its security into its own hands. “We will not see Iranian and Hezbollah warriors near the border with Israel.”
Few Middle East observers have considered why Hezbollah has not only retained its reputation as the top ruling military/political force in Lebanon (a military state within a state); but, also, why it has sacrificed thousands of its fighting troops as Iran’s main proxy force for Assad against the Sunni opposition “rebels” in Syria. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has been a faithful supporter of Shiite militias in Iraq, as well.
|…a changing balance of power
in the region may force
Israel to go to war.
Hezbollah has proved its capabilities and is now transitioning from a temporary fighting force in Syria to establishing a permanent presence on the ground in order to help Iran take future control of much of the country. Hezbollah is doing this with the support of Russia, and the assistance of Iranian Revolutionary Guards who are also operating in Syria. The result is a changing of the balance of power in the region, which may force Israel to go to war.
It will not be an easy war for Israel as Hezbollah already has thousands of sophisticated rockets pointed at Israel from Lebanon, and advanced armaments in their possession in Lebanon and Syria. Additionally, Hezbollah soldiers are battle hardened from fighting in Syria, and are brutal experienced combatants who are willing to fight to their death against Israeli troops. Historically, Israel’s Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah ended in a truce, according to many observers. Whether true or not, this has emboldened Nasrallah to fight Israel again.
to say the cease-fire deal
is bad for Israel.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, himself, continue to say that the cease-fire deal is bad for Israel. Amidror has implied if Israel’s demands are not met, it could be a prelude to war. Israel will not let Hezbollah and Iran establish a local Shiite army on the Syrian Golan Heights, under the pretense of a cease-fire, which could result in a battle for Israel on two fronts – Syria and Lebanon. Israeli leaders have continued declaring that Israel will fight Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Lebanese people will pay the price for it.
As Amidror acknowledges, “The world is allowing Hezbollah and Iran to build huge military capabilities in Lebanon. The day will come when we will have to deal with it, and destroy them, and it will be paid by the Lebanese.”
If part of the future battle is on Israel’s border with Syria, the IDF has the dilemma of dealing not only with Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and Syria, but also Russian ground and air forces that occupy Syrian land and air space. Most likely, Russia will do everything it can to constrain Israel from hitting security targets in Syria, especially if it upsets future Russian-backed cease-fires (that give Putin diplomatic favor within the international community).
Furthermore, as the country of Syria is already divided up into various strongholds, it makes it difficult for one rule of law to be established in the country as it once was. This instability gives way to Hezbollah’s attempt to acquire more advanced weapons systems (including hidden WMD’s), as well as to acquire strategic gains in military intelligence – all of which were once a part of Assad’s elite ruling Syrian party. Military caches could soon be under the control of Iranian-Hezbollah operations, if Tehran is allowed to continue its goal of eventually occupying parts of Syria.
Israel will do everything it can to prevent the Golan Heights from becoming a major front for war. Therefore, it is already planning a no-man’s land on its border with Syria to keep Hezbollah and Iranian operatives at a distance, using whatever favorable Syrian opposition forces it can find to oversee these operations. But, Israel has past experience in establishing a security zone in South Lebanon, and training up the South Lebanese army to oversee maneuvers there. This engaged Israel in a Lebanese quagmire. If Israel tries to establish a security zone on its northern border with Syria, it could end up in a Syrian quagmire.
For now, some analysts believe that Iran’s priority focus is freeing the Middle East of Sunni control while enhancing the Russian-Shiite axis, hoping to diminish American power and influence in Iraq and Syria. In television coverage in Iraq, Iran is being portrayed as Iraq’s protector and defender, while the United States is being portrayed as a devious and untrustworthy invader. This is to increase public mistrust of America, as Trump considers a prolonged military presence in Iraq.
It is now up to the Russians and Americans to make good on their promises to Israel, and consider the Jewish State’s strategic security concerns, before a war erupts on Israel’s borders. If not, whatever gains have been made in Iraq and Syria to try and constrain Sunni and Shiite forces from gaining more land and more power, these gains will soon be quickly lost. It will result in harming not only regional interests, but global interests, as well.
“Through You we will push back our adversaries; through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, nor will my sword save me. But, You have saved us from our adversaries. And, You have put to shame those who hate us.” Psalm 44:5-7
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.