Taking out ISIS and helping protect our ally Israel from Tehran-backed proxy terrorist wars must both be part of a well-thought-out Middle East strategy. After all, eliminating the Caliphate will ultimately make Israel and our other allies in the region safer by removing a significant pretext for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russian presence in Syria.
By Paweł Piotr Styrna | September 12, 2017
Israel has combatted Arab nationalist and Islamist terrorism – coupled with Tehran-backed (and, previously, Soviet-backed) proxy terror – for a long time. Now, however, the embattled and besieged Jewish state faces the threat of a multi-pronged terrorist proxy war by Hamas and Hezbollah (from both its Lebanese and Syrian footholds), both with the support and encouragement of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).
The Israelis are clearly attempting to head-off this conflict. On August 24, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, in an attempt to convince Moscow to put the brakes on Tehran.
However, according to Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration: “Mr. Putin reportedly gave no hint about what he would do. (…) What both leaders know, and Mr. Putin wouldn’t admit, is that Russia’s power to restrain Iran is limited. Gone are the days when America and Russia could exert a superpower’s near-total control over the actions of their allies and dependent or satellite states. Russia’s power to influence Iran, while considerable, will not be determinative. Russian influence in Iran is deeply embedded both economically and militarily. Russian trade with Iran doubled over 2016. Iran is on an infrastructure building binge mostly funded by Russia. But Mr. Putin isn’t about to threaten to cut off that aid to help Israel.”
We may add that the more trouble and chaos America and her allies face in the Middle East and East Asia, the less attention Washington will pay to Ukraine and the Central-Eastern European Intermarium.
Furthermore, in the first half of September, Israeli jets also bombed a military facility in western Syria; although Israel did not officially claim responsibility for the air raid, it is clear that Tel Aviv wanted to strike IRI and Hezbollah outposts in war-torn Syria. In addition, Israel also launched operation “Light of Grain,” a two-week military exercise on the Lebanese border. “The Light of Grain” is the largest such exercise in almost two decades and aims to simulate possible scenarios in a potential war with Hezbollah.
Commentators and analysts continue to debate whether Hezbollah is stronger or weaker after six years of war in Syria. Although there have been reports of war-weariness creeping into Hezbollah’s ranks, it is also true that the Shia terrorist militia has gained foreign (i.e. non-Lebanese fighters) and valuable battle experience. Moreover, as Babbin points out, Hezbollah “has more than 100,000 rockets and missiles now, some of which can reach from Lebanon to every Israeli town.” Thus, it would be more prudent to assume that Hezbollah has emerged stronger from the Syrian civil war, for it is usually wiser to overestimate rather than underestimate the enemy.
The geography of conflict (Source: Forward.com)
A nightmare scenario for Israel would be IRI-backed Hezbollah joining forces with Hamas, thereby forcing the Israelis to fight a two-front war: against Hezbollah firing missiles from bases in Lebanon and Syria in the north and northeast, and against Hamas attacking from its Gaza Strip bastion in the southwest.
Hamas allegedly broke with IRI in 2012 because of Tehran’s support for Assad. As Sunni Islamists, Hamas and related Palestinian factions backed the Muslim-Brotherhood-affiliated anti-Assad rebels. This sectarian conflict of interests naturally complicated relations with the Shia pro-Assad and pro-IRI Hezbollah. Nevertheless, Hamas and Tehran have reportedly repaired their relationship and IRI is once again funding and aiding the Palestinian terrorist organization.
Thus, an IRI-coordinated joint terrorist war against Israel by both Hezbollah and Hamas is a very real possibility, in spite of the differences between the two groups. Tehran-Hezbollah and Hamas may disagree on who to back in Syria, but both share a common hatred for Israel and the West.
Perhaps the optimal solution to the problem would be to fix it at the source by supporting regime change from within Iran itself. The Iranian people generally do not support the Islamist regime in Tehran and many Iranians outright detest it. Why not help the Iranian people help themselves, in the process removing one of the greatest sources of destabilization in the Middle East?
We should also not forget about ISIS.
Although the Caliphate’s territorial extent has been rolled back considerably – and ISIS has also finally been dislodged from Mosul – it nevertheless remains and can potentially bounce back in favorable circumstances. In this context, some (most recently Henry Kissinger) are tempted to leave this toxic, festering sore be simply because they see it as a way to undermine Iran’s influence in the region. This is a very dangerous temptation akin to the German support of the disease of Bolshevism in Russia in 1917 because it ultimately came to control half of Europe. Similarly, the effects of the failure to quickly destroy ISIS can be seen in the wave of refugees and terrorist attacks throughout Europe.
Taking out ISIS and helping protect our ally Israel from Tehran-backed proxy terrorist wars must both be part of a well-thought-out Middle East strategy. After all, eliminating the Islamist Caliphate will ultimately make Israel and our other allies in the region safer by removing a significant pretext for IRI and Russian presence in Syria.
Paweł Styrna is a Ph.D student in Russian history at a DC area university. He holds two MA degrees, one in modern European and Russian history (University of Illinois at Chicago) and another in statecraft international affairs (Institute of World Politics in Washington DC). Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.