General Amidror of JISS: We declared a few years ago that we will not let the Iranians build an independent Iranian war machine.
The Wall Street Journal, 27.08.2019
Over the weekend, Israel said it struck a military site in Syria to prevent planned attacks from Iranian forces, and it went on high alert in anticipation of a response from Iran. Lebanese officials Sunday blamed Israel for two drones that fell over Beirut. Later that day, a drone attack in Iraq killed two members of an Iranian-aligned militia.
In the latest strike early Monday, Israeli aircraft hit a Palestinian group’s base in eastern Lebanon, Lebanon’s state news agency said, an attack that targeted the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group backed by both Tehran and the government of Syria.
Israel’s efforts to counter Iran reflect a high-wire act for Mr. Netanyahu, who touts himself as the nation’s chief protector but now risks saddling Israel with multiple conflicts just weeks ahead of national elections. Some analysts warn that Israel’s enemies, including Iran, could exploit the sensitive political moment to goad Israel into a bigger fight.
“Multiple engagements that are highly public on multiple fronts, with perhaps a political context attached to them, could incentivize one or more of Israel’s enemies to try to escalate into a much more expansive conflict,” said Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Previously, Israeli officials had taken care to avoid provoking Iran’s most powerful proxies. Now, the apparent Israeli decision to expand its efforts to Lebanon, after rarely striking there since the 2006 war between the countries, has raised the prospect of another confrontation with Lebanon-based Hezbollah, another Iran ally.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly said that Iran is in Syria and Iraq only at the invitation of the respective governments, and its military presence in the region is meant to deter foreign aggression against Iran.
In a tweet Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the Israeli actions amounted to a declaration of war and would force the government to defend its sovereignty. “We are a people seeking peace not war and we do not tolerate anyone threatening us in this way,” he tweeted.
In Iraq, a parliamentary coalition called Fatah, which includes the political arms of Iran-backed militias, blamed Israel and the U.S. for the Sunday’s deadly drone strike. Fatah released a statement saying it considered the attack “to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.”
The U.S. believes that Israel has faced an increased threat from Iran and its ally forces during the past couple of months, a U.S. official said. Part of that threat is a result of Iran’s territorial gains through its allied groups in Iraq and Syria, said a second U.S. official. The U.S. officials stressed that even though there are more 6,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. isn’t always notified about Israeli strike plans.
“While there is some coordination, Israel does conduct some defensive strikes without notifying the U.S. beforehand,” the first U.S. official said.
Israeli military officials declined to comment on the actions in Lebanon or Iraq.
Tensions are also flaring on Israel’s doorstep, with Iranian-backed militants firing rockets toward the country’s south from the Gaza Strip, prompting Mr. Netanyahu to order the military to cut fuel transfers to the Strip. Israeli military officials have accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad, backed by Iran, of trying to disrupt a fragile calm that has seen Israel allow increased aid and fuel into Gaza.
Current and former Israeli military officials say Israel’s expanded actions stem from a yearslong effort to disrupt the spread of Iranian military equipment that Hezbollah could use to attack Israel. Israel has said it is specifically concerned with the spread of long-range missiles and antiaircraft defense systems and is increasingly worried about Iran’s ability to use Iraq as a staging ground.
“We declared a few years ago that we will not let the Iranians build an independent Iranian war machine,” said Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel’s national security council and now at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “Iran is more aggressive.”
Since 2012, Israel has mounted a campaign that security officials call the war between the wars, striking Iranian military buildup mostly in Syria though more recently in Iraq, according to a U.S. official.
Israel had mostly remained quiet about its operations in Syria but began speaking more openly about them last year after it retaliated for what it described as Iranian attempts to launch missiles and rockets into Israel from Syria. In January, Mr. Netanyahu began taking credit for actions aimed at Iranian weapons in Syria, shortly after he moved to dissolve Israel’s parliament and prompted elections in April.
He failed to form a government then and is now seeking election again on Sept. 17. He has campaigned on his security credentials and has made confronting Iran a key focus, particularly after campaigning against the Iran deal and encouraging President Trump to pull the U.S. out of it.
Felicia Schwartz is The Wall Street Journal’s Israel and Palestinian Territories correspondent, based in Tel Aviv.
By Felicia Schwartz, The Wall Street Journal, 27.08.2019