Israel Signaling a Heavy Price for Iranian "Entrenchment" in Syria

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) David Makovsky - By striking Syrian antiaircraft forces and installations where Iranian personnel are located this weekend, Israel seems intent on forcing key players to recognize its deep interest in limiting Tehran's military presence in Syria. Israeli leaders have repeatedly stated that their main concern is avoiding Iranian military "entrenchment" on their doorstep. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly last September that Israel will not accept Tehran's development of advanced missile production capabilities in Syria and Lebanon, and that it "will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea, and ground forces." Israel wants Damascus to realize the price of allowing Iran to house military personnel at Syrian bases. While Assad is deeply indebted to the Iranians for helping to salvage his rule, if Israel continues exacting a serious cost because of Iranian involvement, Assad may feel compelled to request that they dial back their presence. Senior Israeli military officials have sent messages to Assad via third parties indicating that they do not oppose him extending his sovereignty in Syria, but that they will view the situation very differently if he does so with Iran, Hizbullah, and Shia militias in tow. For now, Russia's alliance with Tehran still serves its regional interests, and the Kremlin's objectives are far more aligned with Iran's than with Israel's. Moreover, the Islamic Republic has been a significant purchaser of Russian arms. Israel is determined not to let Iran develop the military capacity to change the equation on its northern borders. Israeli officials will no doubt maintain this posture even if they have to keep acting alone. This means that continued Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria will likely be met with increased Israeli strikes. The writer is director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.

2018-02-13 00:00:00

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