Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jets take part in a ceremony for newly graduated air force pilots at Hatzerim Air Base, June 28, 2010..
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Iraq emerges as a potential target for Israel as it steps up efforts to eliminate the Iranian land bridge to the Levant.
Recent Israeli airstrikes prove that air defense systems supplied to Syria by Russia are not enough to repulse Israeli aggression against Iranian targets in this country, but this may not be the end of the story. Israel may soon change the course of action to strike Iranian targets beyond Syria’s borders and launch aerial campaigns in Iraq where the airspace is defenseless and the political vacuum is too deep for the government to claim territorial sovereignty.
Russian S-300 air defense systems are waiting to be tested in the ongoing Syrian-Israeli conflict, and according to recent news, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) did not employ these systems to repel Sunday’s large-scale air raid by Israel on various Syrian and Iranian positions in southern Syria. SAA had used S-200 missiles to mistakenly target a Russian jet in September 2018, and Russia announced the subsequent delivery of the more advanced S-300 missile launchers along with new radar systems to Syria. Although the Syrian government and Russia claim that Syrian air defense systems have successfully concluded the mission by intercepting the majority of Israeli missiles said to be fired from the Lebanese airspace, it remains obscure whether the famous S-300 systems are capable of defending Syria against an advanced and technological nation like Israel.
Notwithstanding the continuous story of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-affiliated targets across Syria, another interesting claim emerged in Iraqi media last week that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the central Iraqi government of potential Israeli airstrikes against Shi’ite militia groups in that country. Iraqi news outlets alleged that Pompeo made it clear to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that the US government would refrain from taking action should Israeli missiles start raining on Iranian targets inside Iraq.
Iraq’s test with Iranian-vetted militia groups that have gained access to the Iraqi parliament as the second largest bloc in the final elections of May 2018 has been a rather challenging one for the world and the central Iraqi government alike. Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s last policy attempt was designed to bring the militia groups closer to the government as he sought to sack the national security adviser responsible for militias, Falih al-Fayyadh, and replace him in this position by himself. Fayyadh, who does not see any necessity to hide his connections to Iran, regained this position under Mahdi, and was even nominated to become the interior minister. The dispute over Fayyadh created a political deadlock as Iraq is still waiting for someone to become its interior minister to deal with the world’s most fragile security situation.
Reports that the US was concerned about a possible Israeli aerial campaign against Shi’ite militias in Iraq emerged as the debate on the government’s control over militias continue. The only known fact within the dramatically complicated political stalemate of Iraq is the notion that the Iraqi government has given up the race to control the militias, and the current picture is about not losing the government to Iranian militias entirely.
Iran’s land bridge to the Levant continues to function without any disturbances, and it is likely to be more functional in the near future as US troops are preparing to withdraw from Syria. The only force that has created obstacles for the Mullah regime’s grand strategic goal of connecting Beirut to Tehran through secure land routes has so far been Israel. The Trump administration’s overestimated confidence in renewed sanctions to curb Iran’s regional capabilities signal that the Jewish state will stay alone longer in being the sole preventative military force against Iran on this matter.
Hence, the Iranian land bridge is not only about the transferring of military equipment to the Levant, but a more sophisticated project that entails the creation, sponsorship and commanding of proxy forces en route. Iraq enters the picture not only for its geostrategic location adjacent to both Syria and Iraq, but also due to its Iran-friendly Shi’ite population and the willingness of large militia groups to continue the fight under the Iranian banner. In this regard, Iraq is safer for Iran than Syria where the majority of the local population is hostile Sunni Arabs governed by a rather weaker Iranian client that is no way a substitute for dedicated Iranian proxies within and in the periphery of the Iraqi government and military apparatuses.
Assuming that Syria will eventually complete the installation of S-300 missiles and master the use of complicated Russian-made radar systems to hunt Israeli fighter jets violating its airspace to strike Iranian targets, Iraq’s airspace will continue to remain defenseless against Israel. Although the calculation that Russian air defense technologies can save Syria may point to a devastating mistake for Syrians and Iranians alike, the Iranian land bridge to the Levant makes Israel extremely vulnerable also in Iraq.
Russia has no intention to meddle with Iraq’s political and security crises in order to safeguard Iranian-backed militias, and the US signals messages of inaction in the event of Israeli aerial operations if they target militia groups. If Israel decides to strike Iranian proxies in Iraq, not only will its fighter jets not meet any capable resistance but there will be many local factions willing to share intelligence on whereabouts of Iranian clients in the country as well.
The writer is the coordinator of Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv
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