The Coming Confrontation between Israel and Iran

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.

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More about: Iran nuclear program, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin