October 14, 2022 | Israel Hayom

A new reality means Israel will have to strike Lebanon

Recent examples of US weapon shipments to Ukraine demonstrate the problem that Israel could face if Iran and its allies lay their hands on them.
October 14, 2022 | Israel Hayom

A new reality means Israel will have to strike Lebanon

Recent examples of US weapon shipments to Ukraine demonstrate the problem that Israel could face if Iran and its allies lay their hands on them.

Iran and the US have been moving along two parallel lines when it comes to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. Despite President Joe Biden’s willingness to make major concessions through his envoy Rob Malley, things are up in the air when it comes to the prospects of finalizing a revived agreement.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine continues to shed blood. The ongoing combat has implications that should worry Israel and require immediate address. The chief concern is that Russia and Iran are increasingly moving into each other’s orbit. This means that reality has changed not just in Syria and Lebanon, but also in Russia and Iran.

The war in Europe has had some Russian forces and weapon systems move from the Syrian theater to the Ukraine front, and while that could have been seen as a positive development for Israel, it now poses a new problem, mainly because Iran is keen on filling the void left by Russia. And this time around, Iran’s entry to Syria will have full Russian backing.

Even though Syrian President Bashar Assad owes his survival to Iranian and Russian intervention in the civil war, his regime has until recently understood that it would be best served by reducing Iran’s presence in the country to a minimum in order to prevent additional Israeli attacks. But now Assad has shifted gears and has fallen in line with Russia’s new set of priorities.

Transit point

Syria has set up key installations and bases close to the border with Israel. There have been many strikes on those targets in recent years. According to foreign media, these have been mostly the work of Israeli forces, as part of the “Campaign between Wars” to counter the Iranian-Syrian breach of Jerusalem’s red lines.

Israel has often warned that it would not let Iran and its proxies – Hezbollah or various Shiite militias – consolidate power in Syria and establish another terror base on its borders. It has also made it clear that it would not let Syria become a staging ground for the transfer of game-changing weapon systems (i.e. precision-guided munitions) from Iran to Hezbollah.

Before the war in Ukraine drew Russia into the Iranian embrace, there had been hope that the changes in Syria – under Moscow’s direction and due to Assad’s internal problems and realization that Iran’s presence is a burden on his regime – would create an opportunity for a move toward a positive path as far as Israel was concerned. But the war upended this rationale and now the emerging situation in Syria has become a problem for Israel.

Iran has sent weapons systems to help Russia, such as kamikaze drones, but this is just a symptom of the problem. Iran has taught Russia how to circumvent Western actions and how to game the international banking system, but the potential problem is much larger.

Warm relations

The US and Europe have been providing Ukraine with sophisticated weapon systems, despite not being of cutting-edge quality. During combat, it’s only natural that some will ultimately end up in Russian hands. The Russians have also been studying the Ukrainian modus operandi so that they could find out the true capabilities, limitations and advantages of those systems.

The warm relations between Iran and Russia could result in some of those systems – including the know-how and relevant Russian experience from real combat – reach Iranian hands, mainly because Moscow would feel indebted to Tehran.

Recent examples of US weapon shipments to Ukraine demonstrate the problem that Israel could face if Iran lays its hands on them. The deliveries include multi-mission radars, reconnaissance systems and secure communications, ordnance disposal equipment, precision artillery systems (the guided multiple launch rocket system), and more

Ukraine has also asked for ATACMS (army tactical missile system, which is a surface-to-surface missile that has a range of 190 miles). While this system is rather obsolete, the missiles have high precision and a massive warhead. These systems, along with the know-how and experience gained, could create a major challenge to Israel if they reach Iranian-aligned forces.

An American absurd 

The moderate Gulf states, which harbor real concerns over the threat posed by Iran, have been alarmed by the warm ties between Tehran and Moscow. In light of the feeble US response and the absurd efforts by the Biden administration to revive the JCPOA despite the conduct of Russia, Iran, and China, it is no surprise that some of the Sunni leaders have been exploring closer ties with Iran.

It all boils down to the key question of “Does Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei really want a deal?” If so, how many additional concessions would he get from the US?

Israel must make sure Iran once again faces a credible military threat. The past suggests that this usually prompts a major shift in Iran’s behavior. This is what happened in 2003, after the US invasion of Iraq; this is what happened in the year 2011-2012, when Barack Obama warned that “all options are on the table” and when Israel was making signs that it was gearing up for a strike. This was also the case in 2020, when the US assassinated the head of the IRGC Qods Force Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack. All these instances had the credible military threat restored briefly, making Iran stop its nuclear provocations, only to resume them when Biden’s election had this threat disappear.

A change in doctrines

Israel must also consider a paradigm shift and move toward the Reagan Doctrine, which the US used against the Soviet Union. Reagan discarded containment, and instead embraced a comprehensive program that employed all available resources to weaken Moscow and prevent its expansion. And it worked.

On its northern border, Israel must discard the doctrine under which it only attacks on Syrian soil while letting Hezbollah continue unabated in its build-up of high-precision capabilities. Israel must continue to carry out strikes in Syria but also in Lebanon – even at the risk of an escalation – in order to ensure that Russia’s support of Iran and its regional proxies does not fundamentally change the reality.

Israel must also find regional partners for the struggle against Iran. Regime change should not be the immediate goal, but it would suffice to have the interested parties marshal their resources to weaken the Iranian regime so that it does not engage in provocative actions under the protection of a deeply flawed nuclear deal.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a former national security adviser to the prime minister and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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