(photo credit: REUTERS)
If Arab media reports that the air force once again attacked targets in Syria are to believed, it can be interpreted as a new Israeli policy.
According to the Al Jazeera and Al Arabia TV channels and Syrian opposition social media, the targets attacked last Wednesday and overnight Friday were Syrian Scud missiles – but the messages sent were to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.
This policy is intended to draw new and clear redlines vis-a-vis Iran to slow down its rush for regional hegemony.
Until recently, the Israeli diplomatic and covert operations were directed against Tehran’s nuclear program. It seems that despite the Israeli rhetoric expressed mainly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government and the security establishments have come to terms with the likelihood that a nuclear deal between Iran and the international community is a fait accompli. In that sense, Israeli diplomacy failed to persuade the US and the international community that any deal that would try to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for lifting the sanctions is a bad deal.
Now Israel prepares for the day after – for the new reality that Iran is emerging as a regional power spreading its influence from the Indian Ocean to the Red Rea to the Mediterranean.
To slow down Tehran’s regional aspirations, Israel needs to join forces with other concerned parties such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Egypt. And, indeed, the cooperation and coordination in the Riyadh-Cairo- Jerusalem axis have improved in the last year.
However, Israel’s major concern is the growing influence of Iran over Hezbollah. On this front, Israel acts alone. The closeness between Iran and Hezbollah, the master patron and his obedient servant, was evidenced in the effort to establish a clandestine presence on the Golan Heights, to have the capability of opening a second front if and when another Israel- Hezbollah war erupts. This effort was foiled, or so it seems, in January when Israeli planes killed Jihad Mughniyeh, an Iranian general and a few other Hezbollah operatives who were on a reconnaissance mission near the Israeli border.
Foreign reports have attributed at least 10 attacks in Syria and one on Lebanese soil in the past two years to the Israel Air Force. These attacks were aimed against convoys carrying sophisticated long-distance missiles – either Syrian or Iranian – to Hezbollah.
But Hezbollah already has accumulated since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 almost 100,000 missiles and rockets – who counts – of all sorts that cover every spot and corner in Israel, including strategic sites such as the Dimona nuclear reactor, power stations, air fields, military bases and so on. So, why bother? The answer is that, in contrast to the interpretation of the past attacks attributed to Israel, it is no longer trying to stop the shipments of missiles for the sake of prevention. Top security officials admit that you cannot deter the enemy from its desire to equip itself; you can only try to deter it from using the weapons in its possession.
In that sense, Israel has succeeded so far, as neither Iran nor Hezbollah wishes to open a new round against Israel.
But the Israeli game can turn out to be a dangerous double-edged sword.
Iran and Hezbollah may decide that what they may define as Israeli chutzpah is too much for them and say to themselves, “Enough is enough. No more. It’s time to retaliate even if we are seen to be weakened on the bloody fields of Syria.” In such a scenario, they may respond just in an effort to restore their own deterrence against Israel, and events may escalate and get out of hand.