The Growing Risk of an Israeli Confrontation with Iran in Syria

Dec. 22 2017

In addition to one or two thousand Iranian troops in Syria, Tehran also has at under its command some 100,000 Syrian militiamen and 20,000-25,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Islamic Republic has also successfully completed a land bridge running from its borders, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon; it now plans to build air, naval, and land bases in Syrian territory. Thus far, Israel has effectively used airstrikes and artillery fire to enforce its red lines in Syria, but, argues Michael Herzog, the ayatollahs may soon become bolder about striking back:

For Israel, the risk of escalation in Syria has remained low so long as the war raged and the relevant actors were heavily enough involved that they could not afford to open another front with Israel. . . . But such risk of escalation is likely to increase as the war nears an end, de-escalation and political solutions dictate the agenda, an emboldened Syrian regime regains control over most of the country, and Iran entrenches itself more deeply in the area. In such a context, Israeli preventive measures are likely to incur bold responses from the Iran-Syria camp, and possibly Russian pressure for Israeli restraint so as to avoid escalation and the undermining of a Russian-led political process.

Indeed, earlier in 2017, the Syrian regime began responding to perceived Israeli strikes by firing in the direction of Israeli planes. While not endangering the planes, these actions signaled growing boldness and a greater inclination to respond, prompting an Israeli decision to retaliate to any such firing, with the aim of definitively protecting its freedom of operation, including against the introduction and use of sophisticated air-defense capabilities—another Israeli red line. . . .

One [can reasonably] assume that Iran and Syria are now seeking ways to create counter-deterrence vis-à-vis Israel, which in turn could add fuel to the sizzling fire. . . . [A]s the risks of friction with Iran grow in Syria, Israel will have to assess more carefully the delicate balance of deterrence in order to avert both a major military escalation [and Russia turning against the Jewish state]—both highly undesired outcomes from Israel’s standpoint. A growing challenge to Israel’s stated red lines will call for a more conscientious definition of what constitutes a real, not rhetorical, red line whose violation would justify action even at the risk of major military escalation [with Iran and its proxies] or tension with Russia. If Israel feels a certain Iranian move is likely to develop into an intolerable challenge in a future confrontation with Iran and Hizballah, it would likely take action and risk confrontation now, on better terms, rather than later. . . .

Ultimately, [however], countering Iranian plans in Syria would be much easier and more effective if Israel’s deterrent actions fit within a broader, proactive U.S. strategy to block Iran in the region, rather than Israel shouldering most of the burden alone.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

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

 

UN Troops in Lebanon Don’t Just Ignore Hizballah. They Protect It

Dec. 18 2018

Two weeks ago, IDF officers showed the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) the tunnels that Hizballah has dug into Israeli territory. UNIFIL, whose primary mission is to keep Iran-backed jihadist group from using southern Lebanon to attack Israel, responded with a statement that failed even to name Hizballah. Not only is UNIFIL useless at doing its job, writes Evelyn Gordon, but its very presence helps Hizballah, since countries that contribute troops are afraid to put them in harm’s way by aggravating the terrorists they’re meant to contain.

It’s no coincidence that the major contributors to UNIFIL . . . oppose listing Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The only EU country that does blacklist the entire organization is Holland, which has exactly one soldier in UNIFIL.

The EU and its other member states blacklist only the [organization’s] military wing, not the political wing. And that’s fine with Hizballah because, as the organization itself admits, any distinction between its political and military wings is purely fictitious. Thus, so long as the political wing is legal, Hizballah can still fundraise and recruit freely in Europe.

A complete ban, however, would genuinely hurt Hizballah. According to a 2017 German intelligence report, Germany alone has [on its soil] some 950 Hizballah operatives actively fundraising and recruiting for the organization. Much of that money is raised through charitable donations, but another significant source is organized crime. An EU report published in August described “a large network of Lebanese nationals offering money-laundering services to organized crime groups in the EU and using a share of the profits to finance terrorism-related activities. . . . An EU ban on Hizballah would thus put a serious crimp in its operations.

UNIFIL, by contrast, hasn’t put the slightest crimp in them. . . . To be fair, expecting UNIFIL to stop Hizballah was never realistic. As a senior Israeli official acknowledged this week, few countries would be willing to contribute troops to a mission that actually involved fighting Hizballah. . . . [Yet] UNIFIL has no problem making accusations against Israel. [A] November report that couldn’t “substantiate” Hizballah’s [illegal] arms transfers declared that UNIFIL had recorded 550 Israeli violations of Lebanon’s airspace and demanded their “immediate cessation.”

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Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon