Behind the Rocket Attacks from Gaza Could Be the Hand of Iran

July 11 2018

Backed by Moscow and Tehran, Bashar al-Assad has begun an offensive against the rebel strongholds in southwestern Syria that will inevitably place Iran’s forces directly on Israel’s border. Meanwhile, groups in Gaza—including Islamic Jihad, which is all but an Iranian proxy—have persisted in firing rockets at Israeli communities. Tony Badran sees a “coordinated Iranian strategy” at work:

Iran’s assets don’t stand a chance against Israel in a full-on war. But low-intensity conflict can work to [Tehran’s] advantage. . . . The purpose of all the activity in Gaza, therefore, is to tie down and distract Israel, and then try to divide its forces between two active fronts in the hope of deterring them from truly acting on either. If successful, Iran will have set up fronts on Israel’s borders with Gaza, Lebanon [in the form of Hizballah], and Syria.

So long as Iran is able to avoid high-intensity conflict in these arenas, it can press ahead with its plan. [For the time being], the Israelis have made clear they will not accept low-intensity conflict on their borders as a norm, and will not allow the Iranians to entrench themselves not just on the Golan but in Syria more broadly, no matter the cost.

There is debate in Israel about whether the time has come to hit Gaza hard. Notwithstanding all the chatter about a deal with Russia [to keep Iran and Hizballah out of the Syrian Golan], there is equal need for Israel to intensify its targeting campaign against Iran’s infrastructure, personnel, and logistical lines in Syria. . . .

Israel will need to carry out its strikes with a posture signaling readiness to go to full war. Normalizing protracted low-intensity war, akin to the situation with Lebanon between 1996 and 2006, will prove to be a costly mistake. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it recently, “if there needs to be” conflict with Iran, “it is better now than later.”

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hizballah, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war

Russia Has No Interest in Curbing Iran in Syria—Despite Putin’s Assurances

July 20 2018

In his joint press conference on Monday with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump stated that in their meeting he had brought up U.S. concerns about the Islamic Republic’s malign influence in the Middle East, and that he’d “made clear [to Putin] that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from [America’s] successful campaign against Islamic State.” It does not appear, however, that any concrete agreements were reached. To Alexandra Gutowski and Caleb Weiss, it’s clear that agreements will do little, since Putin can’t be trusted to keep his word:

In late June, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on [the southwestern Syrian province of] Deraa, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed last November. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning [Assad]-regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for the province. [In fact], forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran. . . .

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. . . . Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

President Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest in serving as a partner in Syria and his ability to do so. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes [for postwar reconstruction] is designed to fortify the regime, not to rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

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