Iran’s military presence in Syria – what are Israel’s options?

Check out my latest article for JNS.org, which looks at the growing Iranian military presence in Syria, and examines Israel’s options.

The US and Russia managed to get a ceasefire going in southern Syria, and Jerusalem has pressed hard for the creation of an Iranian-free zone in the area.

The Israeli defense establishment remains on high alert for the entrance of Iranian-backed forces into south Syria.

Israel has warned that it will not tolerate the establishment of Iranian bases of attack against Israel in Syria. Iran has tried to set up such bases in the past, meeting with reported Israeli air strikes.

Overall,  it is clear that Iranian and Hezbollah military influence in Syria is dominant.

The radical Shi’ite axis is focused on fighting Sunni organizations now, but its spokespeople have already openly threatened to use their presence in Syria against Israel. The real question is how successful Israel will be in deterring the Iranian-led axis from trying again. A lot might depend on it.

An excerpt from my piece: Tens of thousands of Iranian-backed Shi’a militia members are currently operating across Syria. Under Iranian command, they combat Sunni rebel organizations seeking to depose the Assad regime. Tehran is also working to link up its forces in Iraq together with those in Syria, with the goal of creating a continuous land corridor that stretches from Iran to Lebanon. 

Meanwhile, Iran continues to use Syria as a transit zone for the trafficking of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran has overseen the construction of weapons factories in Syria—and now in Lebanon, too—that can produce accurate missiles for Hezbollah. 

The article quotes Dr. Eitan Shamir, former head of the National Security Doctrine Department in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, who confirms that “the Iranians have obtained an outpost in this area.” He outlines the red lines Israel should enforce, to prevent that outpost from becoming too big a threat.

Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, cautioned: “The Iranians could come back and try to attack Israel from southern Syria, and are also seeking to create a port on the Syrian Mediterranean coastline.”

He added:

“Israel must see an Iranian presence on its border as a casus belli [justification for war].”

A buffer zone that keeps Iranian elements at bay is the key to preventing that.

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