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

No, Israel Hasn’t Used Disproportionate Force against Hamas

Aug. 15 2018

Last week, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched nearly 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, in addition to the ongoing makeshift incendiary devices and sporadic sniper fire. Israel responded with an intensive round of airstrikes, which stopped the rockets. Typically, condemnations of the Jewish state’s use of “disproportionate force” followed; and typically, as Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, explains, these were wholly inaccurate:

The IDF conducted, by its own admission, approximately 180 precision strikes. In the aftermath of those strikes the Hamas Ministry of Health announced that three people had been killed. One of the dead was [identified] as a Hamas terrorist. The two others were reported as civilians: Inas Abu Khmash, a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, and her eighteen-month daughter, Bayan. While their deaths are tragic, they are not an indication of a disproportionate response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israel’s southern communities. With . . . 28 Israelis who required medical assistance [and] 30 Iron Dome interceptions, I would argue the heart-rending Palestinian deaths indicate the exact opposite.

The precision strikes on Hamas’s assets with so few deaths show how deep and thorough is the planning process the IDF has put in place. . . . Proportionality in warfare, [however], is not a numbers game, as so many of the journalists I’ve worked with maintain. . . . Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against the anguish that the action might cause to civilians in the vicinity. . . . In the case of the last few days, it appears that even intended combatant deaths were [deemed] undesirable, due to their potential to increase the chances of war. . . .

The question that should be repeated is why indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli civilians from behind Gazan civilians is accepted, underreported, and not condemned.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict