Israel and Iran are on the brink of war

Israel and Iran are on the brink of war
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On Feb. 10 Iran sent a drone into Israeli territory. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) promptly retaliated by ordering a raid against the command control center in Syria from which Iran sent the drone. In turn, Syrian anti-aircraft managed to shoot down an Israeli aircraft that crashed in Northern Israel. It’s the first time since 1982 that this has happened.

Israel then launched a massive attack on 122 Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria from which all its planes returned unscathed. This sequence marked the first time Iran and Israel have directly clashed and duly brings the prospect of a war between them over Syria into focus.

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Iran’s determination to destroy Israel has never slacked since the current regime came to power in 1979 and Tehran’s objectives in Syria continue to confirm this strand of its policy. Beyond returning the war criminal Bashear Assad to full power over all of Syria, Iran’s other vital interest here is the creation of an unbroken route from Iran to the Mediterranean and Lebanon by which it could continue to supply Syria and Iran’s terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, with weapons directed at Israel.

 

Elsewhere, meanwhile, it continues its campaign to destabilize the entire Middle East and especially Sunni regimes that have historically been pro-American. For its part, Israel has made clear that it will not permit Iranian military bases in southern Syria near its borders and will retaliate against any effort to establish bases or this direct link to Hezbollah there.

These contending interests and recent actions duly set the stage for possible direct warfare between Israel and Iran while the civil war in Syria, if anything, continues to defy military let alone political resolution. Indeed, at present, the Syrian, American, Iranian, Israeli, Turkish, and Russian forces are all active in Syria. This is what happens not only when a government falls apart and U.S. policy goes AWOL.

We all know that civil war is the most terrible kind of war and that its effects are compounded when foreigners intervene. But in the U.S. case, we are also witnessing what happens when the U.S. has no viable strategy or idea of what it is trying to accomplish but commits forces nonetheless.

While the U.S. objectives are the destruction of ISIS and the removal of Assad; by accomplishing the former it negates the prospect of achieving the latter. At the same time both Presidents Obama and Trump have shown that they have no idea how to achieve strategic goals in Syria or to formulate the means by which to bring about those goals.

Thus we are currently witnessing what can only be described as a bipartisan failure that is fast morphing into a wholly owned Trump failure where the risks of regional war are visibly growing. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE and his supporters may consider him to be “good for Israel.” But failing to devise a coherent policy for the Middle East and torpedoing the “peace process” in Israeli-Palestinian relations hardly benefits Israel or its citizens. 

Indeed, the administration’s Middle Eastern policy has been revealed to be words without substance or coherence. Presumably, the “brilliant’ Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms Mueller investigating Russian payments made by Trump Tower meeting organizers: report The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE was supposed to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue. Instead, the Palestinians won’t talk to the U.S., they are running to Russia and others to seek their help, and will undoubtedly make overtures to Iran.

That conflict is no nearer to peace then it was a year ago. Even if one recognizes that for millennia Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital and the response of the Arab world to the proclamation thereof was quite muted despite a lot of warnings to the contrary, U.S. policy here has nothing to show after a year of empty rhetoric. In Syria, the absence of any coherent U.S. policy under both Obama and Trump has opened the way for Iran to expand its influence and to do so under Russian protection.

Indeed, the only beneficiaries of the administration’s ineptitude to date have been Iran, Assad, and Russia. Assad’s ability to stay in power is directly traceable to the large (relative to the theater) Russo-Iranian contribution to his victory. Moreover, his tenure in power is vital to Iran’s designs and probably to Russia’s too. Despite much analysis suggesting that Moscow and Tehran may not quite see eye to eye on Syria, Russia has been Assad’s willing accomplice, not only bombing defenseless cities, but also upholding his political position in its own so-called Syrian peace process.

Although Moscow professes not to want an Iran-Israel clash; its ongoing supplies of weapons to Iran, Syria, and through them to Hezbollah (with Moscow’s complicity) shows that Russia is not only masking strides to supplant Washington in the region but is also a willing state sponsor of terrorism if that suits its purpose whether that terrorism be against Syrians or Israelis.

President Trump can go on blaming Obama for the current Middle East disaster; he has long since acquired ownership of this disaster. He and the supposedly best and brightest of his administration have saddled the U.S. and its Israeli and other allies in the region with an ongoing legacy of strategic failure, incomprehension, and incoherence. If there is any region that shows why the U.S. must not and cannot act alone but instead forge sensible policies and strategies with its allies — it is the Middle East. From here it seems that neither Trump nor his team have learned that ancient lesson yet.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, specifically focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. Blank is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur Fellow at the U.S. Army War College.