Israel is preparing for a limited confrontation with Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said on Wednesday. Of particular importance was his warning that Iran is not only entrenching itself in Syria but also in Iraq. “We will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria or in Iraq,” he said. “Iraq is undergoing a civil conflict – when the Quds Force is operating there on a daily, when the country itself has turned into an ungoverned area. Advanced weapons are being smuggled by the Quds Forces in Iraq on a monthly basis, and we can’t allow that.” The growing Iranian threat now extends thousands of kilometers from the border with Lebanon, through various areas of Syria to Iraq and Iran’s border. This is a complex battlefield, and Israel has already carried out more than a thousand airstrikes on hundreds of targets in Syria. There have also been tensions with Hezbollah after a strike on a “killer drone” team operating near the Golan Heights in August.The threat is multi-fold. For instance in 2018, Iran was alleged to have tried to transfer an air defense system to the T-4 airbase in Syria, the same air base it used to launch drones at Israel that February. In addition, Tehran is accused of transferring precision guidance kits to Hezbollah. These kits would enable the massive arsenal of rockets that Hezbollah has acquired to be more threatening. Israel has continually warned about this.Iran has exploited its alliance with the Assad regime in Damascus to establish bases in Syria. Damascus and its ally in Moscow have been busy in northern Syria, focused on fighting extremists and Syrian rebels in Idlib, as well as trying to deal with the instability created by both the October withdrawal of the US and a Turkish invasion. Iran is happy to take over southern Syria in the absence of strong control by the Assad regime. This is how Tehran operates in the region. It sets up proxy forces and weakens governments to hollow them out from the inside. Then it supplants state institutions and creates parallel institutions, like it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Once it has accomplished this, it sets up a network of bases and munitions factories, and uses them to transfer weapons.In Iraq, the Iranian regime has been active in supporting Shi’ite militias that are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These groups came into being after 2003 and gained power after 2014 via their fight against ISIS. They have infiltrated the government through political parties and getting Iraq to legitimize their militias by incorporating them into the security forces. These groups have been instrumental in murdering Iraqi protesters since October, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. This is Iran’s model: Takeover the state from within, suppress protest, and use Iraq as a kind of Iranian colony.Iraq is helpful for Iran because it can base its ballistic missiles there the way Saddam Hussein once did with Scud missiles in Anbar province. Baghdad can also keep munitions there, ready to move them into Syria via the newly opened Albukamal crossing and via a large base called Imam Ali, which it built at that crossing. For Israel, this is an increasing threat. Iran has already shown that it will retaliate via rocket fire from Syria over actions taken by Israel. It did this in September and November. The Iranian model is to present a credible threat to Israel from Syria and also from Iraq. How to confront this threat is a major challenge. Iraq has accused Israel of several airstrikes, but the larger picture is Iran’s entrenchment. Iran has threatened US forces and attacked ships in the Gulf of Oman, downed a US drone and attacked Saudi Arabia. Tehran does not seem to think it has been deterred, and feels that it can operate with impunity in Iraq. Stockpiling munitions and moving them to Syria is one aspect of that. Iran is not secretive about its goals: It says that it wants to attack and destroy Israel. This is an existential threat that the international community must take seriously. Israel is taking it seriously – but the ability to deter Iran from its role in Iraq will be a long-term challenge.