While the debate over the 2015 nuclear agreement, and the question of its continued certification by President Trump, still continues in the U.S., the Islamic Republic has been steadily expanding its presence in Syria and simultaneously advancing its ballistic-missile program. Israel, for its part, has attacked Iranian positions in Syria 100 times over the past five years. Absent American efforts to contain Tehran, warns Elliott Abrams, things are likely to get worse:
Now there are reports that Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps could build up its presence and operate. And that Iran and the Assad regime are negotiating over giving Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus. And that Iran may actually deploy a division of soldiers in Syria. . . .
[I]f Iran does indeed plan to establish a large and permanent military footprint in Syria, . . . Israel will have fateful decisions to make. Such an Iranian presence on the Mediterranean and on Israel’s border would change the military balance in the region and fundamentally change Israel’s security situation.
[U]nder the nuclear deal reached by Barack Obama, remember, limits on Iran’s nuclear program begin to end in only eight years; Iran may now perfect its ballistic-missile program; and there are no inspections of military sites where further nuclear weapons research may be under way. As Senator Tom Cotton said recently, “If Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today, it would be [for] the first time in a generation.” Israel could be a decade away from a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and bases in Syria—and could logically therefore even place nuclear weapons in Syria, just miles from Israel’s border.
As such a situation would be intolerable for Israel, a larger military conflict between it and Iran is almost inevitable—unless the U.S. begins to constrain Tehran’s regional ambitions.