My Word: Between North and South in the Middle East

By
August 29, 2019 22:44
My Word: Between North and South in the Middle East

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr hold the Iranian flag during a ceremony for the diplomatic accreditation of the new ambassador of Iran to Germany in Berlin. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)

An Israeli official this week spoke of conflict on five fronts. I counted them on my fingers. One of them stood out like a sore thumb. The arenas were Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and Iran. Spot the odd man out: The Islamic Republic is the major source of conflict but it shouldn’t technically be considered a front. Iran and Israel do not share a border – at least they shouldn’t share a border. Iran is located some 1,500 kilometers away. But 40 years ago, with the fall of the Shah and the advent of the Islamic Revolution, Iran declared Israel its enemy. And in recent years it has done everything to extend its sphere of power to include neighboring countries and entities. Iran’s tentacles now spread to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Through its proxies – Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the Houthis – it launches attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets as well as Saudi Arabia, its Sunni Muslim rival.

That’s why Iranian attacks and threats on Israel need to be taken seriously around the globe.

The situation could as easily be summed up as tension North, South, East and West. Just as I was thinking that it was noteworthy that the G7 summit of world leaders in the French resort of Biarritz had not put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the agenda this year, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the parley. The move was probably motivated equally by the desire of the young French politician to boost his standing as an international statesman and an effort to deflect attention from his many problems at home.

Perhaps the same could be said of US President Donald Trump who in his idiosyncratic way took the opportunity to suggest meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the nuclear agreement. Rouhani, who is not the ultimate power in Iran – an honor held by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – rebuffed Trump’s moves.

But the G7 for most Israelis was overshadowed by current events closer to home.

On Friday, August 23, Rina Shnerb, who had just celebrated her 17th birthday, was murdered in a particularly shocking terrorist attack. Rina, her father Eitan and 19-year-old brother Dvir, who live in Lod, went hiking to a pool near Dolev in the Benjamin region. As they tried to beat the summer heat, enjoy nature and each other’s company, an improvised explosive device was detonated, instantly killing Rina, seriously wounding her brother and inflicting moderate wounds on her father. Rina’s death followed painfully close to the murder of Dvir Sorek in Gush Etzion earlier this month.

The terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were a reminder that while Israeli security forces thwarts hundreds of attempts a year, there is no guarantee that every terrorist cell or lone wolf will be caught before carrying out their evil acts.

THE IRON DOME anti-rocket system is also not infallible but on Sunday, August 25, it saved thousands of lives – and probably averted a war. One of three rockets that were fired from Gaza that evening was intercepted before it could hit a crowd attending an open-air, end of summer concert in Sderot. This is one more occasion on which I thought of the Iron Dome as being a modern miracle.

The audience were exposed not only to the danger of a direct hit by the rocket itself, but the very real risk of a deadly stampede. News footage showed a frightening situation in which half the crowd was scrambling to reach the gates while the other half – including young children – was lying on the ground. There’s a reason the local trauma center was inundated by people of all ages suffering the debilitating emotional affects of shock. It was a nightmare.

Had people been killed – either by the rocket, shrapnel, or as a consequence of a stampede – Israel would have had no choice but to respond harshly. But the local residents rightly feel that no country should consider it acceptable for rockets to be regularly launched on its citizens. At what point does the lack of a response morph from being a worthy attempt to prevent further escalation of the situation and become part of the problem by undermining restraint?

The dilemmas that Israel faces were also evident on the northern front. Here events developed at a dizzying pace, but in a cloud of obscurity. Within a few days, the Israel Air Force reportedly hit several Iranian military targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Among the targets was a unit affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force based in the village of Aqrabah, southeast of Damascus. The force was allegedly preparing to launch a multiple suicide drone attack on Israel. Two Hezbollah members were reportedly killed in the attack. It brought to mind the incident last year when an explosive-laden Iranian drone penetrated Israeli air space from the T-4 airbase in Syria but was intercepted and downed near Beit She’an by the IAF.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah reported that two Israeli drones in the early hours of Sunday, August 25, had crashed into the organization’s media center in Beirut’s Dahiyeh neighborhood. Later a report in The Times of London claimed the drones targeted Hezbollah’s precision-missile project, including crates with machinery to mix high-grade propellant for precision-guided missiles. Other experts claimed that the downed drones were not Israeli but Iranian.

Israel also reportedly hit a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley stockpiling weapons. Further afield, a Shi’ite militia convoy in western Iraq was also hit.

Although reliable details are scant, a common theme is clear. Alongside the by-now familiar threats of rocket attacks, the era of drone warfare is upon us. Israel is undoubtedly working on finding technological solutions to the new threats posed by a mass drone attack, the same way as it developed the Iron Dome against rockets.

In the meantime, the strikes this week were not only physical, they were psychological. Just as Hamas and Hezbollah aim to strike fear into the hearts of Israelis, Israel knows that deterrence is strength.

Apart from the military aspects of the Israeli strikes, there was an equally important message that Israeli intelligence is watching its enemies everywhere – and able to act on the information.

As Israelis carried on hiking and going to concerts, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel from what he hopes is the safety of a bunker. The ugly terrorist twins of Hamas and Hezbollah are watching to see not only what Israel’s response is to their attacks, threats and provocations. They, and their Iranian sponsor, are waiting to see how the world reacts.

The leaders who gathered at the G7 summit need to remember that what starts with attacks on Israel inevitably spreads elsewhere as terror organizations feel emboldened. It is time for the West to realize that Iran is not so much a sore thumb as giving the world the proverbial finger.

liat@jpost.com


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