Following the defeat of the Islamic State, Iran has reoriented its military focus from Iraq to Israel’s borders. And so, irrespective of US President Donald Trump’s decision to go for the ayatollahs in Tehran, Israel sees no option but to engage Iran and Hizballah at some point in 2018, as they draw ever closer to three of its borders.
Four factors are driving this imperative:
- The overland bridge, which Iran has managed to open up through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and Lebanon, sections of which are already functioning, subject Israel to military and economic encirclement by forces under Iranian command on three sides – north, east and south. Israel is obliged to break this stranglehold before it tightens further.
- Neither Israel nor the United States can afford to let Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) set up a military industrial complex in Syria. Tehran plans this complex to be its Middle East weaponry hub for supplying rockets and ordnance to Hizballah, the Syrian army, the Shiite militias still parked there, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and other Iranian agents. In the past, Israel foiled Iran’s bid to build a weapons manufacturing hub in Sudan: this can’t be allowed to happen at its back door in Syria.
- Jordan’s throne and security are menaced by Iran’s brutal methods of expansion. The fall of the Hashemite king in Amman and his replacement by a pro-Iranian ruler next door would imperil Israel and seriously destabilize the region. It would also bring to naught US efforts to install in Baghdad a government that is not dependent on Tehran
- To boost Iran’s threatening presence, the IRGC Al Qods chief, Qassem Soleimani, has for several months been bringing pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militia leaders to Beirut for meetings with Hizballah commanders. Last March, Akram Abbas al Kabi, head of the Iraqi Harakat Nujaba, saw Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut to discuss establishing militias in Iraq on the lines of Hizballah. Upon his return home, he launched the new “Golan Liberation Brigade” to assist Syria in reclaiming the Golan from Israel.
In the first week of December, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s leader, Qays Khazali, was taken by Hizballah on a guided tour of Israeli positions across the Lebanese border. The Lebanese government was too feeble to object to the visit, even when he announced he was responding to the call of the Absent Imam to “deter the Zionist enemy.”
Iran’s drive for footholds on Israel’s doorsteps continued apace last month, when DEBKA Weekly’s military sources learned from Israeli intelligence that the Iraqi Shiites, Hizballah and the IRGC had set up an operational headquarters in Damascus for coordinating their operations on the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel.
- On Oct. 19, a high-ranking Hamas delegation travelled from Gaza to Tehran. It was headed by the Palestinian group’s deputy leader Saleh Arouri, for whom it was his second visit. On his way to Tehran, Arouri stopped over in Beirut to meet Nasrallah. The decision taken during those visits was for Iran and Hizballah to take responsibility for the funding, training and arming of Hamas’ armed wing, Ezz e-din al-Qassam. Since the Islamic Jihad in Gaza is a direct Iranian proxy, Israel finds its southwestern border under the same hostile hand as its northern borders. Iran is now operating three fronts against the Jewish state under its direct command.