The U.S. May Be Poised to Give Iran the Missing Link in Its “Land Bridge”

Aug. 15 2018

For several years, Western analysts have warned that the Islamic Republic plans to use its intervention in the Syrian civil war, together with its fight against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, to establish an overland route connecting its own territory to Lebanon and the Golan. If the plan succeeds, Tehran would have the unrestricted ability to send troops and materiel to Israel’s borders, magnifying the threat currently posed by Hizballah. Alexandra Gutowski fears that a current American campaign against an IS stronghold in eastern Syria might be abetting this strategy:

[The U.S.-led coalition’s] airstrikes indicate that Islamic State maintains a robust presence in Abu Kamal, a critical position along the Syria-Iraq border that Iran seeks to control. . . . Curiously, despite these concentrated strikes, U.S.-backed forces will not be conducting a follow-on ground offensive there. The coalition has limited its ground offensives to areas north of the Euphrates River, in order to preserve the deconfliction [agreement] between the coalition and the [pro-Assad] axis: the Syrian government, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias. Thus, the coalition is . . . effectively ceding Abu Kamal to Iran.

Iran is eager to capture Abu Kamal to secure a land route over Iraq and Syria toward Lebanon. Although Iran has a robust air bridge to supply its foreign wars, an overland route is more reliable and less expensive. Iran has worse odds at the other two crossings: Tanf, where the United States has positioned its special forces, and a northern crossing under Kurdish control.

Whereas those two crossings would be difficult to conquer, the only thing standing between Iran and a secure overland route at Abu Kamal is Islamic State. . . . Iranian forces are already present in Abu Kamal and are using it to facilitate weapons flows. On June 17, an Israeli airstrike killed members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who were training militias on how to transfer weapons in the area. Additional Iranian forces—those leaving Syria’s southwest—could also be redeployed there.

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Read more at RealClear Defense

More about: Iran, ISIS, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war