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Israel’s Iran dilemma

Nov 27,2017 - Last updated at Nov 27,2017

Unlike other countries, Israel under its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a clear objective and seems willing to achieve it: to prevent Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.

Time and again, Israelis expressed their discontent with the developments in Syria after the defeat of Daesh. Iran and its proxies are set to fill the vacuum, thus posing a credible threat to Israel.

Israeli leaders made clear that their country will not tolerate the presence of Iran and its militias close to the Golan Heights; this is certainly not the first time we hear Israel threatening to do something.

But threats without tangible actions will project weakness. Worse, acting on those threats may trigger a major regional war with unforeseen consequences,

A few days ago, Netanyahu warned Syria’s President Bashar Assad that Israel will not sit idle by while Iran is being entrenched in Syria, but will intervene in the ongoing war in Syria.

In his phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu summed up Israel’s position by saying: “From now on, Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target. We will not hesitate to act if our security needs require us to do so.”

If Israel acts on this principle, it has to become actively engaged in the Syrian swamp.

Israelis never concealed their dissatisfaction with the most recent agreement on de-escalation zones in southern Syria.

The United States, Russia and Jordan agreed on a de-escalation zone for six months without taking into account Israel’s demands of pushing Iran-backed militias away from the border. 

Russia’s position is that Iran’s presence in Syria is legitimate. There are some differences between Russia and Iran over the future of Syria, no doubt, but Russia also understands that Assad, who stands on shaky ground, cannot survive without robust Iranian support.

On the other hand, it is hard to see Iran comply with Israeli threats after the great amount of investment in backing Assad.

Iranians believe that their country could be better served with a unified Syria under Assad. Their project in Syria will not be easily implemented if the Syrian president loses power.

All signs indicate that Iran will not budge unless there is an unaffordable price tag. 

It remains to be seen, however, how Iran will behave if Israel acts on its red lines announced on different occasions.

In a nutshell, tension between Iran and Israel could reach new heights as a result of the evolving situation in Syria.

Barring an acceptable arrangement for both countries, a confrontation will be the most likely scenario.

While Russia stands to lose its project in Syria in case a new regional war erupts, it has yet to convince Iran not to challenge Israel.

Likewise, Washington may need to step in to constrain Israel from taking the region down the road of another deadly war.



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