Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Caroline Glick: The Threat That Iran Will Choose To Initiate War From Syria Continues To Rise

Caroline Glick: The Stakes in Syria Continue to Rise

The threat that Iran will choose to initiate a devastating war in the Middle East, from its perch in Syria, continues to rise.

Last Thursday, forces wearing Syrian military uniforms along the Syrian side of the border with Israel at Quneitra in the Golan Heights hoisted the Syrian flag at the border crossing. It was the first time the regime had asserted its control over the border zone since 2014.
The regime’s reconquest of southwestern Syria, along the borders with Jordan and Israel, in recent weeks has been accompanied by repeated penetration of Israeli territory by projectiles from Syria.

Last Tuesday, Israel shot down a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi 22 that crossed into its territory. Last Wednesday, so-called Islamic State (ISIS) forces in southern Syria shot two missiles into Israel that fell into the Sea of Galilee just a few dozen yards from beachgoers. The Israeli navy located one of the missiles, but is still looking for the other one, which reportedly failed to detonate.

Assad owes his survival to two outside powers: Iran and Russia. Iran has directed Assad’s war effort, including his mass killing from the outset of the war in 2011. Through its Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Hezbollah and Shiite militia proxies, Iran supplied the ground forces to secure Assad’s control of territory. Assad needed these forces because over the years, at least half of his armed forces deserted their posts. Today, Assad still lacks the manpower to hold the territories he is reclaiming. Iranian-controlled forces still comprise the bulwark of the “Syrian regime forces.”

As Iran supplied Assad with his army, Russia has served as his air force since 2015. Had Russian President Vladimir Putin not sent his bombers to Syria, Assad and his Iranian controllers would probably have lost the war. In exchange for saving him, Assad gave Putin the Khmeimim air base and the Tartus naval base.

This outcome is deeply problematic for the U.S. and for Israel. Russia’s position in Syria has made it both the most powerful actor in Syria and a major power broker in the Middle East as a whole. So long as U.S. and Russian positions are unaligned, particularly in relation to Iran, Russia’s empowerment comes at America’s expense.

For Israel, Russia’s appearance in Syria ended the air superiority it has held since 1982. Once Putin stepped in, any thought of Israel helping to overthrow Assad disappeared.
Israel’s primary interest in the war has from the outset was to prevent Iran from transferring precision weapons to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon through Syria. Since it became clear that the Iranian-controlled Assad regime would defeat its opponents, Israel’s goal has been to end the Iranian presence in Syria altogether.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked avidly to forge an operational partnership with Putin in the hopes of diminishing Russia’s commitment to Iran generally, and to Iran’s control over the Syrian regime more specifically. To Putin’s credit, he has opted to avoid confrontation with Israel and to accept Israel’s right to attack his Iranian partners. But his strategic ties to Iran remain significant and present a major challenge to Israel and the U.S.

This is the case because Iran’s position in Syria poses a massive threat to Israel. Unlike the Syrian regime, which avoided direct conflict with Israel after Israel destroyed its air force in 1982, Iran is interested in a war with Israel.

Iran’s Hezbollah proxy army has exerted effective control over Lebanon since 2008. Hezbollah has 150,000 missiles pointing at Israel. Its forces have now gained massive combat experience through their participation in the war in Syria. Hezbollah also has effective control over the U.S.-armed and trained Lebanese Armed Forced, (LAF).

Iran’s control over the Syrian ground forces increases the prospect of war not only against Israel, but against U.S. forces in the Middle East and against Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s threats against oil shipments through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and the Bab el Mandab at the mouth of the Red Sea – the two sea lanes that control all seabound oil shipments from the Middle East — cannot be seen in isolation from its presence in Syria. There is a possibility that Iran may choose to begin a major war against the U.S. and its allies by attacking Israel from Syria and Lebanon. Add to that the fact that Iran controls the Hamas regime in Gaza as well, and we are looking at the prospect of a war breaking out along any one of these Iranian-controlled fronts, which could easily become a regionwide war.

In response to the U.S.-Israel demand that all Iranian forces be removed from Syria, Lavrov offered to withdraw Iranian forces to a distance of 100 kilometers from the Israeli border. Netanyahu and Israel’s security leadership scoffed at the offer, pointing to the fact that Iranian, Hezbollah, and Shiite militia forces are all operating along the Israeli border in Syrian uniforms.
Netanyahu reinstated Israel’s demand that all Iranian forces and Iranian-controlled forces withdraw from Syria and added three new demands. He insisted on the closure of Syria’s borders with Iraq and Syria; the destruction of the Iranian precision-guided missile factories operating in Syria; and the removal of the surface-to-air missile batteries now protecting the missile factories. Lavrov in turn, rejected the Israeli demands.
It is not clear whether Russia is facilitating Iranian operations in Syria because the Russians cannot prevent them, or if Putin is simply waiting for an offer from the U.S. and Israel that he cannot refuse.

What is absolutely apparent is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian interference on behalf of Trump in the 2016 elections — and the brutal onslaught against Trump by the media, the Democrats, and former Obama administration officials in the aftermath of his summit with Putin — make it impossible for the Trump administration to pursue a diplomatic course with Russia. This, despite the fact that such a move is critical to prevent war.
Israeli military officials assess that Assad and Iran will not rush into a conflict with Israel. And Russia has made clear that it will not support their operations against the Jewish state. But the danger lurks and grows with each passing day.
It is clear enough that given the enormous stakes in Syria, as events unfold, all U.S. and Israeli assets in relation to Iran/Syria – military, economic and diplomatic – should be deployed in a coordinated manner to eject Iran and its proxies from Syria while avoiding a major war.
It is a major setback that due to the Mueller probe, and the U.S. media’s mobilization on its behalf, America is blocked at this critical juncture from seeking a diplomatic accord with Russia that would contribute significantly to the achievement of this vital goal.

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