On May 10, 2018 the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) shot twenty rockets at Israel from inside Syria. In response, Israel struck Syrian-based IRG weapons depots, logistics sites, and intelligence bases – as well as a Syrian army surface-to-air missile battery.
It is my analysis that this Israeli-Iranian military collision of May 10, 2018 has left Iran – for now – in a weaker position, for the following reasons:
- Israel’s aggressive response caused massive destruction to the IRG military infrastructure in Syria. Estimations are that it will take Iran a long time to reconstruct its lost assets.
- Israel demonstrated impressive intelligence and military capabilities. It is estimated that the Israeli Air Force used less than ten percent of its offensive capacities in the attack. According to the Israeli Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman – most of the Iranian infrastructure was targeted. This increases Israel’s deterrence vis-a-vis Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. These proxies, whose mission is to exhaust Israel through military rounds, have significant military assets – in particular, huge arsenals of missiles and rockets, which play a critical role in Iran’s expansion plan. (For more on that, read for example my article “My Enemy is My Best Asset” ~ September 2017).
- Russia – Iran’s ally in Syria, did not condemn Israel, let alone do anything to prevent or confront the Israeli strike. The mild Russian reaction – calling upon the sides to conduct restraint, makes Iran very unhappy. One should remember, it is the Russian aerial umbrella in Syria that secures Iran’s strategic interest – the continuation of the Assad regime.
- The unified and clear position of the United Kingdom, Germany and France condemning the Iranian attack on Israel is yet another source for Iranian discontent. Following the withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA, Iran badly needs the support of these states.
- The failure of the Iranian attack on Israel, coupled with the massive damage the Israeli counter-attack caused Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, added to the previous series of painful slaps Iran has sustained from Israel in Syria as well as inside Iran – most recently displayed by the Mossad’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archives, erodes Iran’s attempts to present itself as the powerful regional actor.
- The Arab Monarchies, Egypt, Jordan, and some Lebanese factors shed no tears for the painful punches Iran has sustained from Israel. Bahrain’s Foreign Minster wrote that Israel has the right to defend itself against the aggression generated from Syria. Similar sentiments of satisfaction are widely expressed on Arab information platforms and on social media sites throughout the Arab world.
- Iranian affiliates in the Arab world – such as the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Hamas echo the Iranian official position – that the Israeli attack is a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Impact of the Israeli-Iranian Collision in the Lebanese and Palestinian arenas:
As I always say – in the Middle East, nothing stands alone – everything is linked. The Israeli-Iranian confrontation has an impact on other areas which have been heating up over the past few months.
The Lebanese arena. Despite the severe military threat that Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenals present to Israel, Hezbollah did not initiate an attack on Israel from Lebanon during the Israeli-Iranian clash for two major reasons:
Hezbollah is deterred by Israel. That deterrence has further increased after the military and technological supremacy Israel demonstrated on May 10th against Iran in Syria.
Lebanese politics and the dire economic situation. In the general elections held last week in Lebanon, Iran’s major proxy – Hezbollah marked a political achievement. Together with its political partners – the Amal Shi’ite Movement and The Free Patriotic Movement, they won a total of fifty-nine seats out of the 128 seats in the Lebanese Parliament.
The name of the game today in Lebanon is the catastrophic economic crisis of the state. Lebanon desperately needs loans and foreign investments. During the CEDRE Conference (“Conférence économique pour le développement, par les réformes et avec les entreprises”) held in France in April 2018, international donors pledged $11billion – as aid or as low-interest long-term loans to Lebanon. However, the allocation of the funds is predicated upon substantial financial and governmental reforms in Lebanon. Hezbollah, as well as its major political partners – President ‘Aoun and Amal leader, Nabih Berri – know that rising tensions with Israel will jeopardize foreign investment and the streaming of the aid and the loans. A war with Israel will push Lebanon to the abyss – taking them all down.
Hezbollah, whose election campaign slogan was “We Defend and Build Lebanon” – rushed to signal that the Lebanese have no desire to initiate a war with Israel. On the day of May 10th – following the overnight events, the Al-Mayadeen news network, associated with Hezbollah rushed to publish a poll allegedly indicating that thirty-seven percent of the Lebanese wish to stay out of the events in Syria (the Israeli-Iranian confrontation).
The current political climate and economic crisis in Lebanon limits Hezbollah’s ability to initiate a war against Israel – a fact that will likely cause the Mullah regime to avoid, in the near future, another military round with Israel in Syria.
The Palestinian arena. The Palestinian March of Return Campaign is expected to reach its zenith on May 14 – 15, in conjunction with the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Some raise concerns that this will result in a burst of massive Israeli-Palestinian violence.
That concern is indeed justified. However, to the best of my analysis, the Israeli-Iranian collision further strengthens Hamas and the PA’s decision to continue to avoid an escalation. Two signals made by Hamas following the events support my assessment:
Hamas published a statement condemning the Israeli attack and urging the Arab world to defend Syria. Yet, Hamas did not mention Iran in its statement.
In a meeting with foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, May 11, 2018 Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza Strip, said that Hamas’ policy is guided only by the well-being of the Palestinian people. He reportedly added that Hamas is looking for a peaceful solution and that the campaign will be executed peacefully.
Those two signals indicate – to the best of my evaluation, that in the power struggle within Hamas between the dogmatic Pro-Iran camp and the pragmatic Pro-Arab camp, the latter – for now, has the upper hand. That is significant because as I wrote in an April 7th article, while the Arab states call upon the Palestinians to avoid escalation – Iran hopes the campaign will spin out of control and generate a massive Israeli-Palestinian military confrontation. Iran is even more interested in an escalation following its military confrontation with Israel.
Since the beginning of the March of Return, I have accurately predicted in several articles that Hamas and the PA wish to contain the events and prefer to avoid a deterioration. The same set of calculations dictating Palestinian restraint are still valid, and to the best of my reading – are even further emphasized following the Iranian-Israeli collision.
The recent Israeli-Iranian confrontation validates my predictions going back to 2012 and until today:
- Unless thwarted – Iran’s aggressive expansion will lead to a massive regional war.
- Syria has become a stage for a zero-sum game between Israel and Iran.
In the foreseeable future, I predict a pause in the confrontations between Israel and Iran. However, unless Iran’s aggressive expansion policy is decisively blocked and stopped, one should expect subsequent – and escalating, rounds.
In that context, US President Donald Trump has very accurately indicated the major aspects of Iran’s aggressive policy that must be thwarted:
- Iran’s support of terror
- The Iranian Ballistic Missile Program
- Iran involvement – either directly or through proxies – in different states in the region
- The Iranian Nuclear Program
Please read my articles to understand the path leading for the turn of Syria into a stage of Israeli -Iranian zero-sum game:
Regional-Chess-game: Awaiting Iran’s Move ~ April 2018
A Significant Message ~ January 2015
Is War in the Middle East Inevitable? ~ February 2012
Avi Melamed is the Salisbury Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute and the author of Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth. You can access his articles on his website, www.avimlamed.com