Analysis: With emergence of a new Iran, Israel needs new allies

By ALON BEN-DAVID
January 26, 2016 03:44

Israel’s problem was and remains the asymmetry between us and Iran. We don’t have a border with Iran, but Iran has more than one border with us.




Saudi officials wait to receive leaders attending the Summit of South American-Arab Countries

Saudi officials wait to receive leaders attending the Summit of South American-Arab Countries in Riyadh. (photo credit:REUTERS)

This past week will be remembered in the annals of the region as the week in which the foundations of the new Iranian hegemon were laid. While the nuclear threat against Israel has been pushed back a decade, at the end of this period we are likely to meet a regional power equipped with a sophisticated conventional army that sports the best Russian military hardware. Its proxies will be fanned out wherever there are Shi’ites in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, a Saudi-led Arab front has risen in an attempt to stop its influence from spreading. It is a war which all sides prefer to keep a cold one. 

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If we were to look at the situation in a positive, “glass-quarter-full” manner, the West’s deal with Iran pushes back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program by years, perhaps up to a decade. We need to bluntly admit to ourselves that this is a result that not even our air force is capable of delivering.

If we were to send our fighter jets to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations tomorrow, none of these facilities would be left standing. But it would take Iran about two years to rebuild them.

Here in the agreement is where the opportunity lies, as IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot pointed out in his very sober analysis which he spelled out in his speech to the Institute for National Security Studies last week. Removing the specter of a nuclear Iran by 10 years enables Israel to dilute the enormous sums of money it has invested in recent years toward building a military option against the Islamic Republic. Concurrently, Israel can utilize this period to tinker and fine-tune with improving this option should it one day become necessary.

This grace period will also allow Israel to perfect its reconnaissance and surveillance technology that it has used to monitor Iran’s activities. This is vital, since there’s a good chance Israel will be the only country left that will continuously ensure that the Islamic Republic is keeping up its end of the deal.

Eizenkot is correct in his assessment that in the short term, Iran will not have an interest in violating the terms of the agreement. Iran received a dream deal which gave it a ticket out of the “ostracized club” and back into the warm embrace of the family of nations. It’s highly doubtful that when he was elected president, Hassan Rouhani ever dreamed of striking such a grand bargain. Now, the Iranian economy is on the verge of taking off, and the government there has no reason to endanger this prospect.

Aside from the $100 billion in assets that were unfrozen this week, representatives of nearly 100 Western companies are lining up to do business in Iran. The Islamic Republic is making preparation to crank out an additional 500,000 barrels of oil per day. At a time when Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, who are selling oil at lower prices, are taking great pains to lower the price of oil per barrel, forecasts are predicting that Iran’s economy will grow by an annual rate of five percent in the years to come.

The link between the economy and the skills of 80 million Iranians, many of whom are educated, combined with the desire of Russia’s military industries to export their wares will enable Iran to field an army that would make most countries envious. It will be armed to the teeth with the most cutting-edge technology that Russia has to offer, including fighter jets, submarines, gunships, missiles, you name it. We have already learned that every piece of weaponry that is used by the Iranian military eventually finds its way to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The dramatic political developments in Lebanon, where Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, has thrown his support behind the presidential candidacy of Michel Aoun. This effectively paves the way for Hezbollah to consolidate control over our neighbor to the North.

When we talk about Iran, most of us tend to think of that large country to the east of Iraq. It is important to keep in mind, however, that Iran today controls almost half of Iraq, mainly its Shi’ite parts from Baghdad southward. It controls a quarter of what was Syria – the quarter that is ruled by Bashar Assad. It controls Lebanon by way of Hezbollah. It is present in one-fourth of the territory of what was once Yemen by way of the Houthis. And nobody would be stunned if the Iranians also manage to foment unrest in Bahrain, a Sunni-ruled territory with a majority Shi’ite population, or in the Shi’ite parts of eastern Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s problem was and remains the asymmetry between us and Iran. We don’t have a border with Iran, but Iran has more than one border with us – in Lebanon as well as in the northern Golan Heights. Iran’s prosperity will eventually reach Hezbollah, and with it comes advanced weaponry. The Sunni Hamas movement will also have difficulty resisting Iran’s advances when it comes calling with the promise of fat checks.

The Shi’ite axis in Syria that comprises Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah will apparently continue to control the most vital parts of the country – the Damascus airport and the seaports of Latakia and Tartus.

In recent years, Israeli officials have been divided over what position to take in regards to the raging civil war in Syria. There are those who claim that Israel needs to be more active in trying to remove Assad and thus breaking the link that connects Tehran to Beirut. The prevailing view holds that Israel needs to continue watching developments from afar from an almost neutral standpoint. It should only intervene in instances where its vital interests are threatened. Any Israeli intervention in the Syria war will only complicate our situation.

Without Assad in the picture, Hezbollah would undoubtedly be a different organization. But past experience shows that any Israeli attempt to impose a ruler on a neighboring country only brought upon us more trouble. Israel’s quiet support for the Sunni bloc’s efforts to stop Iran will continue, even though there won’t be a decisive knockout blow. All parties in the conflict are too strong to lose and too weak to win.

Hezbollah’s continued quagmire in the Syrian war will perpetuate its inability to initiate hostilities against Israel. Yes, the Shi’ite organization is amassing valuable experience and self-confidence on the battlefield, but it also understands – 10 years after the Second Lebanon War – that in the next conflict, it will not get back to its feet.

Israel is now enjoying a strategic honeymoon in which there are no existential threats with which it is faced. It is hard to predict just how long this period will last, and it must prepare for the day after. But if a proper Israeli leadership does emerge, it can lead us to fully integrate and partner up with the sane forces in this region. Together, this alliance can shape the face of the future Middle East.


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