Tehran is drumming up an oral war of attrition against Israel as a ruse to deter the IDF from striking the military hardware and personnel flowing into Syria.
Iran is pouring out violent threats in a rising crescendo against the Jewish state for two goals: One is to keep Israel off-balance and frozen in a high defense posture on its northern borders; and two, to con Israel into fearing that any IDF action would tip over into an all-out conflict. This stratagem allows Tehran to keep up a continuous stream of hardware and personnel into Syria and Lebanon free of hindrance by Israel’s air force and missiles, and so anchor its military presence in both of Israel’s northern neighbors.
Tension between Tehran and Jerusalem has been high since April 9, when an Israel air strike knocked out a Revolutionary Guards air force command center at the Syrian T-4 air base. But, apart from blistering threats of retaliation, Iran has none nothing. Israel celebrated its Independence Day under clear skies, although the following day, Friday, April 20, the Guards deputy commander Gen. Hossein Salami warned that Iran’s hand “was on the trigger of its missiles” and Israel’s air bases were “within reach.” But Tehran sees an opportunity for taking a high tone against Israel following three developments:
- The missile strike conducted by the US, the UK and France on Syrian chemical sites on April 14 was a letdown. And also, against expectations, the Western attack avoided Iranian targets, although Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces played a central role in the Syrian conquest of East Ghouta and its use of chemical weapons. Saudi sources put out a report on Friday alleging that 15 Iranian officers were killed in the missile strike. There are no grounds for this report and it appears to have been designed for home consumption.
- President Donald Trump repeatedly asserts that he is determined to pull American troops out of Syria as soon as possible. This gift is a boon for Tehran’s goals. It will remove the main obstacle, a US military presence along the Syrian-Iraq border, that impedes the transfer of pro-Iranian Shiite militias from Iraq into Syria and the creation of a continuous land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean. In celebration of its effortless gain, reports appeared on Saturday that Iran, Iraq and Syria had undersigned a project for building a 1,700km highway from Tehran to Damascus via Baghdad that will be ready for traffic in two years.
- Moscow and Jerusalem are at loggerheads over Syria after a long period of amity. Tehran has taken note of President Vladimir Putin’s recent warning to Israel that its air force operations in Syria would no longer have the freedom previously enjoyed. Putin has therefore removed another big obstacle from Tehran’s goals. Iran will make every effort to deepen the rift.
For all these reasons, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman cannot be satisfied with their protestations of the IDF’s readiness and willingness to pick up the gauntlet against any threat. Tehran’s belligerent rhetoric is a cover for an action which Israel’s leaders have vowed to prevent. This can’t be done by talk alone.