Forcing Iran out of Syria 

Source: Forcing Iran out of Syria – Israel Hayom

David M Weinberg

Israel has fully joined the battle against Iran in Syria, but it is not clear it can achieve any of its goals there. It will be very hard to force the complete withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies from Syria.

According to Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran has invested between $30 billion and $100 billion in propping up the Assad regime and building its own military infrastructure in Syria over the last seven years. The Iranian investment in Syria is deep, formally based, and longstanding.

Iran has done so for its own good strategic reasons: to create a hegemonic land bridge under Iranian sway from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and to establish a new front against Israel. The ayatollahs are not going to reverse course, write off that investment and decamp back to Iran just because the Israel Air Force occasionally strikes a missile shipment to Hezbollah or a few anti-aircraft batteries. Iran is in this fight for the long term.

If Israel seeks to prevent the consolidation of an independent network of military and political bases by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Syrian soil, like those Iran already has in Lebanon and Iraq, Israel is going to have to gear up for more sustained conflict.

“The IDF will continue to act with full determination and strength against Iran’s attempts to station forces and advanced weapons systems in Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an especially tough speech in Dimona last month.

But this raises a series of difficult questions: Is broad and perhaps direct ground warfare against the increasingly entrenched Iranian forces in Syria coming, and is it worth the costs and risks? Is the IDF ready for such a sustained military campaign? Is the Israeli public ready to absorb the cost this will entail? Does Israel have not only the declarative backing of the United States for such an effort, but also its guaranteed active involvement, including confrontation with Russian forces if necessary?

The answer to the critical first question is a resounding yes, according to Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror (who is also the Anne and Greg Rosshandler senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies).

In a major study published online by the institute this week, titled “The Logic of Israel’s Actions to Contain Iran in Syria and Lebanon,” Amidror explains in stark terms why Israel must act forcefully against Iran even if this leads to full-scale war. In Hebrew, the study caused a stir at Israel’s defense and intelligence headquarters. The English version is now reverberating through Western capitals.

Amidror views the Iranian beachhead in Syria and Iraq not only as a conventional threat to Israel (especially if Iran bases accurate and advanced missiles closer than ever to Israel’s population centers) but, even worse, as a cover for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Iran aims to have Hezbollah and the other Shiite forces it is building up in Syria (and as far as possible in the West Bank and Gaza Strip too) acquire the capability to strike Israel so severely that no responsible Israeli leader would dare attack the nuclear weapons infrastructure being constructed in Iran, says Amidror. He calls this Iran’s attempt to create a “deterrence barrier” to protect its nuclear program, which he says has been thinly and only temporarily mothballed, if at all.

Amidror compares the Iranian strategy to the one on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s conventional threat against South Korea is so overwhelming that it has left South Korean leaders paralyzed and has prevented any action against the North’s nonconventional threat. Amidror says Iran is building up Hezbollah and its own forces in Syria because it aspires to achieve a similar state of affairs and deter Israel from acting against Iran’s nuclear program.

“If Iran acquires the capability to attack Israel with a high degree of precision using missiles from Syria and Lebanon, Israel’s strategic situation would significantly worsen,” Amidror writes.

“And given that the construction of an Iranian force in Syria is intended to deter Israel from acting to prevent Iran’s progress in the military nuclear sphere, impeding this undertaking justifies an Israeli preventive attack if the need arises or a suitable opportunity presents itself.

“Israel must prevent the creation of an Iranian deterrence barrier at any cost, even if an Israeli attack will lead to war – that is, a large-scale operation involving fierce hostilities in Syria and Lebanon, as well as massive and painful assaults on the Israeli homefront.”

This leaves Israel with quite a few challenges. On the diplomatic front, Israel must secure the freedom of action it needs to operate in Syria despite the presence of Russian forces. This may have become more difficult following the incident this week that downed a Russian transport aircraft, killing 15 Russian military personnel.

Simultaneously, without undermining the first element, Israel must enlist a reluctant U.S. to take an active part in operations alongside it, and not only as a supportive observer from the sidelines.

“Without such diplomatic backing, Israel will find it difficult to use its armed forces in the region, in a situation where the two superpowers have a military presence,” Amidror says.

Iran poses one of the most complicated and dangerous challenges Israel has faced over the 70 years of its existence.

But “Israel must win this struggle against Iran, one way or another,” Amidror declares.

David M. Weinberg is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.

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