Tensions are high as President Trump canceled the Iran deal. the IDF has been increasingly hitting Iranian targets within Syria, and there is mounting fear of an Iranian response.
As I have written about at length, Iran has very little in the way of a response. It is a paper tiger that has started to believe its own hype. It is a poor, backwards, corrupt country with negligible military experience and a shaky regime and paranoid regime. The Iraqi army, itself famous for incompetence, was a far superior (though smaller) force to the Iranians during their long conflict in the 80’s.
Iran’s experience is in funding and controlling proxies to carry out its terrorism and fighting for it. A brief and quick analysis here, followed up later hopefully with a more in-depth analysis of the dangers and opportunities, the US and Israel face.
Though the mainstream left leaning media, especially in Israel, touts the current Israeli government as ultra-right (even fascist, whatever that means), many right leaning Israeli voters are disappointed with Bibi’s (Benjamin Netanyahu’s) lack of action regarding our enemies. This criticism would be better leveled at the same voters who fail to listen to candidate’s stated and open ideology.
Though I respect and like Mr. Netanyahu personally, his policy is virtually indistinguishable from Meretz (the extreme left in Israeli politics), and certainly from that of labor and other left leaning parties. Though this is a topic for another time, sufficed to say that Netanyahu’s “right-wingness” is something that can be only “felt” and not heard. We must assume that while Bibi says there should be an independent palestinian state within Israel’s borders, he “doesn’t mean it” as opposed to the leftist parties who do mean it. Poor substitute for an actual differing viewpoint, but alas, candidates who actually state a different viewpoints do not get any votes from the Israeli public, save mine and that of a few other intellectually brave souls.
With this in mind, those that are disappointed in Netanyahu and voted for him simply didn’t listen to him. He has lived up to his promises and more, a slightly more free market economy rather than the stifling Israeli socialism) a more robust foreign policy at least in explaining our right to defend ourselves if not actually doing it, and to continue the endless path of finding a “partner” for peace negotiations (ie giving away land to our enemies).
This fulfillment of campaign promises and stated platform has had one major exception. Benjamin Netanyahu in large part was elected by pointing out correctly the intolerable existential threat Israel (and in to a lesser but very significant extent, the entire Western world), faced in the prospect of a Nuclear Iran. He correctly pummelled previous administrations for doing nothing about it, and hinted in all but the clearest words that he would bomb their nuclear infrastructure much like Israel had done Saddam’s in 1982, under Menachem Begin.
Now breaking records for longest continuous Prime Minister (and soon, longest serving in total), after many beautiful and compelling speeches about the danger of a nuclear Iran, little has been done. In fact, not only had little been done, but under Obama, Iran secured the formal protection of the USA to continue to its nuclear program with that terrible deal that now sits in the dustbin where it belongs.
The how and whys are also a topic of another time, but mostly the inability of the Netanyahu government to have delivered up to this point on that extremely important promise has been due to the prevalence of leftist ideology in the top ranks of all the security services in Israel. Though we cannot know for sure, reported leaked information has us believe that Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman have tried time and again to get the Air Force to act against Iran, and basically faced a General’s rebellion. Famously, top generals and even former Mossad chiefs have called the plan “insane” and lent strength to the conviction that such a strike would lead to WWIII if not Armageddon.
In this issue, this incorrect and defeatist thinking is not only unfortunate, but ironically can lead to the very doomsday predictions it pretends to want to avoid. Iran without nukes is a negligible threat to Israel, and to anyone else. Iran with nuclear bombs unfortunately is not.
Beyond that, these officers have failed in their basic duties. While their opinion can be requested and even considered weightily, the Generals job is to say “how high”. There job is to be ready and able to “do”, and it is the civilian government’s job to decide what and if to do. At much lower ranks, my fellow soldiers and I certainly live in that world, we follow orders, and our response to “Forward!” or in our case more often “Follow me!” is anything but “It’s too scary”. If the IDF is required to destroy Iranian nuclear reactors, and the answer from the Generals is “we can’t”, we need better Generals.
These leaders have handicapped Bibi’s ability to unleash the IDF on Iran and its nuclear infrastructure when windows of opportunity have existed. Fearing the short-lived nature of these windows, I wrote about this issue at length back in 2012 and urged Israel to act then. In the same piece, I describe Iran’s true nature as a Paper Tiger. Sure enough, not long after this window closed, with the Obama administration returning to control of the Iraqi airspace with the surge of ISIS. Obama would certainly not strike Iran, and neither would he allow the IDF passage through Iraqi airspace. The years of a wide open Iraqi airspace after Obama’s premature pullout of Iraq (which led to the ISIS takeover), when Turkish and Iranian air-forces bombed Kurds in Iraq at will was gone.
Finally, to permanently cement this protection of Iran, its regime and its military nuclear program, Obama and Kerry (whom I deal with here), constructed the embarrassing Iran deal, which I analyzed in depth at the time and pointed out it’s all too obvious consequences.
President Donald Trump, returning to the now outdated foreign policy of treating friends like friends and enemies like enemies, has finally ended this embarrassing “deal”. The US senate would have never ratified such an either devious nearing the point of treasonous nor incredibly stupefying treaty, and so Obama (who as it is had little use for Constitutional formalities) enforced the treaty as an Executive decision alone. One which of course Trump now has full powers to reverse.
This did not happen all on its own of course… and while Bibi and Lieberman were handcuffed when it came to actually striking the Iranian reactors and related facilities, they did try to do as much as possible in behind the scenes covert operations. From the Stuxnet computer virus to the dashing recent operation revealing Iranian duplicity, the Mossad has been busy, and started to resemble some of its former glory. All of this, while alone would not stop Iran from going nuclear, did end up not only delaying their success, but gave the Trump administration the tools and evidence it needed to act.
Since I have stated repeatedly that striking Iran is not the end of the world, but rather ensures that it will continue, what is it that I think could be the Iranian response? Well, not much.
Iran as a state could not do much in the way of confronting Israel. The most it could do formally is send some long range missiles Israel’s way. This would be reminiscent of the Scud missiles Saddam Hussein fired in the 90’s. These missiles are unlikely to hit any targets in Israel, as it is the most protected airspace on earth (in terms of an entire country’s airspace). The IDF as is well known, can now with great efficiency intercept even small fast flying rockets such as Katyushas and Qassams that are routinely fired from Gaza. This is like trying to intercept bullets. Larger long range missiles are far easier to intercept, both by the Air Force and by surface-to-air systems. Such an attack would end up looking quite feeble.
So the only move Iran traditionally had was to ask/order Nasrallah and Hezbollah to fire its barrage of rockets from Lebanon onto northern Israel. Nasrallah is no fool and he may or may not listen to such an order. Iran’s influence on Hezbollah cannot be underestimated but it’s also not total. The IDF has done little since 2006 but plan “Round 2” with Hezbollah after what happened in the Second Lebanon War. Nasrallah came out heroic during that war, though badly battered, as his small group appeared to have stoop to the might of the IDF. He may not be so keen on retrying his luck… this time unless the politicians handcuff the IDF, we, with Gd’s help, would make short work of Hezbollah and could completely destroy it. Outside of that, there are a great many pressures exerted within Lebanon (and the Sunni world), from those that fear the punitive price Lebanon would pay in such an IDF incursion. Any strike on Iran carried out by Israel, would by necessity mean the IDF is ready for Hezbollah’s response and how to deal with it.
If the strike on Iran is very successful, and leads to the crumbling of the regime, then there would be all the more reasons for Hezbollah to not obey the falling regime. It is a complicated situation, because on the other hand, if Nasrallah completely defied the Iranians, they would push for his replacement or fund rivals within or outside the group. In any event, Hezbollah acting in force, only symbolically to save face (lobbing a few rockets), or defying Iran are all possibilities.
Having said all this, the Syrian civil war, started and supported from the outset by Sunni gulf states, Turkey and the Obama administration, has provided Iran with a better option. Rather than have Hezbollah launch rockets from Lebanon, which the IDF can deal with, IT WILL try to have some group with in Syria, be it formal Quds, Iranian military, Hezbollah or one of the many paramilitary groups running wild in Syria currently, fire rockets from Syrian territory to the Golan or northern Israel.
The hope here is that, unlike an attack from Lebanon, Israel will face a more difficult decision. Israel faces either the possibility of not responding at all, in order to not enter the Syrian quagmire, or to involve itself there, at the risk of being embroiled in a conflict with many groups with many backers, not least of the Russian military. Iran will undoubtedly try to get Israel and Russia to face off.
This is why Netanyahu is rushing off to speak to Putin and ensure this does not happen. While Israel has no interest in fighting Russian forces (or even Assad’s), and I don’t believe Putin has an interest in fighting the IDF, Israel must be aware of its strong hand (which it never is). Putin’s hard line can be simple. “We don’t want to fight you, do NOT enter Syrian. Stay out and we have no problems. If you enter Syrian territory, we will support the legitimate Syrian state (Assad) against your forces”.
In the face of such a stance, it is imperative that Bibi be as strong. The reverse is more compelling. “We (Israel) do not want to fight you. But we will pursue our enemies wherever they may be. If Syria and your forces allow Iranian forces or proxies to fire at us from within Syria, we will seek them out there and destroy them. Stay out of the way and we will have no problems.”
If it came down to it, Russia’s relatively small Air Force presence in Syria could be annihilated by the IDF, and any Naval forces which would attempt to come down would be sunk in the Mediterranean by the Israeli Air force long before they are near the coast. Russia is a massive country, but it is far away, with a troubled military, already overextended, and in dire economic straits… it is in no shape to fight Israel to protect Iranian forces. The close relations the two countries enjoy, not to mention the close relationship between our Minister of Defense and Vladimir Putin, the many Russian Jews (and non Jews) who live in Israel, and the many Jews who still live in Russia, hopefully make such a confrontation unlikely.
What should Israel do then?
When this Iranian response comes from Syrian soil, it is imperative that Israel not fall into Iran’s weakly veiled and weakly prepared plan. It is its only move, and there is no need for Israel to cooperate. It is time to leave Assad alone. He has gone out of his way to prove he will not retaliate against Israel, despite being repeatedly attacked (it would be his right if not duty by now to retaliate). His concern, with Russian help, is to defeat jihadist forces supported by Sunni regimes and leftist regimes (such as Obama’s administration) across the world and regain control of Syria. Since the Yom Kippur War, Syria has been the quietest border Israel enjoys and the closest thing to “peace” ironically. Israel maintains the Golan, and yet we have quiet (unlike the situation with the Sinai, Gaza, and Egypt… a fake peace bought by blood and tribute). A testament to the fallacy of the “land for peace” concept, and more evidence (if any more was needed beyond All human history) of the better, “Peace through Strength” and the even better “Strength through Strength”.
Israel’s response to any Iranian attack should be the same as what it should have done long ago even without any new attack. Strike Iran! It is a paper tiger and it’s nuclear program must be hit hard, and repeatedly. Russia and Assad should be told… that the Iranian presence will not be tolerated, nor is it needed. It is Russia, and not Iran, that has propped up Assad who is now at the brink of total victory in the Civil War. At the dawn of the so-called Arab Spring, I also predicted (here and here and here for good measure) Syria’s regime would be the toughest to crumble and more likely to survive, and before anyone in the western media had heard the word “caliphate” nor called the Sunni rebels across the Arab world anything other than “freedom protesters”, I painted that picture with a stunning clarity.
In any event, Syria need not be an Iranian proxy. If the Russians and Syrians will expel the ineffective Iranian forces from their territory, all parties involved can achieve their goals. If not, Israel should warn, Iranian forces will be destroyed within Syria as well, along with whoever fights along them.
We certainly, are ready.