US NATIONAL Security Adviser John Bolton, a leading voice in the US against Iran’s threatening policies..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the wake of Iran shooting down a sophisticated and valuable American drone the US almost carried out air strikes against Iran last week.
Instead, President Donald Trump erred on the side of caution and chose to ramp up sanctions. This has fed Iran’s perceptions that Washington is wary of war and could lead Tehran to escalate its threats to the region, including arming terrorist groups that threaten the US and Israel.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton arrived in Israel on Saturday evening and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
Bolton assured Israel that Washington has no closer ally than Jerusalem. The US and Israel have strong relations that underpin shared interests and views of the region.
Netanyahu reminded people that Iran’s aggression in the region has a long pedigree and that it has been arming Hezbollah and threatening Israel from Syria. Bolton said that “Iran can never have nuclear weapons.”
Bolton is in Israel to meet with his Russian and Israeli counterparts. It comes in the context of important strategic discussions with Russia.
Russia plays a key role in Syria, supporting President Bashar Assad, and has also helped the Syrian regime defeat rebels and terrorist groups in Syria.
However from Israel’s point of view this has also enabled Iran to step into the vacuum created in Syria by the weakened power of the regime.
Iran has used this leverage to establish bases, to train locals and to its long-term goal of setting down an octopus-like footprint that will grow deep into the soil wherever the country has interests.
We can see Iran’s expanding and threatening behavior across Syria. From Tel al-Hara – the observation base that Iran allegedly used to overlook into the Golan – to the T-4 base on the road to Palmyra, Iran’s assets are present.
Iran uses Syria as a way station on its road to the sea, sending weapon convoys to Hezbollah and helping its proxy to upgrade its rockets with precision guidance.
Iran uses the region, and Syria, as a kind of firing range to test these rockets. Just as it used cruise missiles that were sent to the Houthis in Yemen, it has fired ballistic missiles at the Islamic State in Syria.
Every ballistic missile launch is a message to Israel. Every time Iran uses its air defense, like its 3rd Khordad system that it used to down the US drone, it is a message to Israel.
Iran’s message is not kept secret. It openly threatens Israel every day, bashing what its leaders often call the “US-Zionist” alliance.
Its allies, such as the Houthis, curse “the Jews” in their speeches and Hezbollah threatens to stop the US-led peace plan for the Palestinians. This is Iran’s regional strategy and it has revealed it piece by piece over the last years.
Iran views itself as being involved in a supreme contest with Israel, taking up the mantle once held by Arab nationalists such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and rebranding this war in religious terms aligned with the Islamic Revolution.
Iran has created not only proxies but miniature versions of the IRGC across the region. Since being gifted the Iran Deal in 2015 it has put these policies on steroids.
It feels there is no one to restrain it.
Downing the US drone was a serious incident. Iran has celebrated it as a psychological victory against the US and believes it has won a major round against the Americans.
It also thinks it has called Trump’s bluff on his threats to retaliate. This comes after six tankers were sabotaged and rocket attacks near US forces in Iraq.
Bolton’s trip to Israel is important, but it is essential that the US be concerned about its loss of deterrence in the region.
Israel and the US are bound together in a complex confrontation with Iran that involves not only hard power, such as air strikes, but also psychological war and rhetoric. Rhetoric must meet reality. Iran knows this and uses the lack of US response to its benefit.
Israel knows that this lashing out may one day spill over to a wider conflict. Iran must know that such a conflict will result in severe repercussions for its regime.
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