Ex-IDF intel. official: IDF shaking boat too much in Syria

Calls current recommendations a ‘dangerous’ gamble, implies Iran being in Syria is beneficial.

An old military vehicle on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, Israel, February 2018 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
An old military vehicle on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, Israel, February 2018
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Former IDF Intelligence senior officer Col. (ret.) Shmuel Even broke the usual defense establishment consensus on Wednesday by criticizing the military’s new strategy for acting in Syria as overly aggressive.
A mid-January IDF Intelligence estimate proclaimed that, based on the current balance of power created after the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani, the IDF can increase its actions in Syria against Iran, he said in an Institute for National Security Studies post.
The current recommendations of IDF Intelligence are a “dangerous” gamble when weighing the potential security costs and benefits, Even said.
The latest strategy of increasing attacks in Syria to a level greater than it has been in recent years would neither succeed in getting the Islamic Republic to abandon its new front there against Israel and “could lead to a broader war,” he said.
“The chances that Israel will succeed at bringing about an end to the presence of Iran in Syria… are not high… and even if it does… this will not impact [Iran’s] overall ability to act against Israel on other fronts” or using other tactics in Syria, Even said.
Tehran could act more clandestinely in Syria, could act within the Syrian armed forces and could act in Syria swiftly from positions in Lebanon and Iraq, he said.
In addition, the Palestinian front is extremely unstable following the dispute over the Trump administration’s peace deal, and this would be an extremely inopportune time to unnecessarily cause a separate flare-up, Even said.
In mid-January, OC IDF Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heyman said the current circumstances – after Soleimani’s assassination and with many parties in Syria on their heels – were an opportune time to act to decisively push Iran out. He argued that if the IDF misses this window of opportunity where Iran and its allies are vulnerable, it could later find itself dealing with an Iranian force in Syria as threatening as Hezbollah is from Lebanon.
In contrast to Heyman, Even suggested that rather than increasing attacks on proxies of the ayatollahs in Syria, the IDF should maintain the same guidelines for attacks as in the past.
This would mean only attacking to prevent the transfer of precision-guided weapons, the establishment of a large Iranian force too close to the Golan border or other developments that could threaten Israel at a strategic level.
Currently, the IDF is tolerating 800 Iranian soldiers and around 15,000 Iranian proxy forces – as long as they do not get too close to the border, Even said.
The only way to get Iran to completely abandon its plan to create a new front against Israel in Syria is through diplomacy with a combination of the US and Russia, he said.
The US is a close ally that supports Israel to get Iran out of Syria, Even said. Even Russia could potentially be coaxed to such a position, given its current, slightly warmer relations with Israel, as well as that the Bashar Assad regime no longer needs Tehran’s militias, he added.
Even implied that there is a benefit of having Iran in Syria, as it gives Israel a concrete Iranian target to pummel from time to time without having to risk actions against the Islamic Republic’s sovereign territory.
Moreover, the IDF’s actions against Iran in Syria largely have been possible because of razor-precise strikes that have almost entirely left other parties in Syria unharmed, he said. This would not always be feasible, and one or two imprecise attacks could quickly lead to an escalation or even a general war that neither side desires, he added.
Just as important, imprecise attacks are more likely if Israel starts acting more frequently, and they could lead to greater Russian opposition to IDF attacks against Iranian moves, which are crucial to maintaining Israeli security, Even said.