Over the past two weeks, we have seen a serious escalation of tensions on Israel’s norther border with Lebanon. Whereas the western media is focusing on day-to-day events on the border, few analysts have bothered to connect the dots and analyze these developments in the wider context of Iran’s dangerous long-term strategy for Israel.
The immediate cause of the tension has to do with Hezbollah’s vast rocket arsenal. Since the 2006 Lebanon War, Iran has supplied its loyal proxy Hezbollah with 130,000 rockets and missiles. Since 2013, Iran has worked to help Hezbollah upgrade the accuracy of this vast arsenal through an initiative that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) calls, “the precision guided missile project”.
Recently, we have seen Iran and Hezbollah make efforts to accelerate this project.
Retired IDF brigadier general Michael Herzog explained that the goal of the precision project, “… is designed to convert significant numbers of Hezbollah’s arsenal of “dumb” medium- to long-range rockets into high-precision ones equipped with guidance systems”.
In his detailed analysis published by the Washington Institute, Herzog wrote that the increase in accuracy of the arsenal would pose a severe threat to Israel and allow Hezbollah to target critical infrastructure like electrical power plants and key military installations. A large number of these missiles could even overwhelm Iron Dome, the IDF missile defense system.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2018 (pictured above), Netanyahu issued a clear warning about the dangers of the Hezbollah precision missile project.
Netanyahu said, “In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of ten meters… Hezbollah is deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields. They have placed three of these missile conversion sites alongside Beirut’s international airport.”
The recent efforts of the IDF to prevent these dangerous developments are part of the reason for the rise in tensions. Specifically, on August 25th there was a drone attack in Beirut allegedly carried out by Israel. The target of the attack was an expensive machine crucial for the Hezbollah precision project. Yet, Hezbollah’s precision missile project is not the only source of tension.
Last December, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced Operation Northern Shield in which it uncovered six Hezbollah terror tunnels that went under the border with Lebanon and extended into Israeli territory.
According to IDF officials, the purpose of the tunnels was to infiltrate large numbers of Hezbollah operatives into northern Israel in order to kidnap and murder civilians and occupy parts of the Galilee.
The overarching question is this: How does all this fit into the larger strategy for the Middle East pursued by leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
For decades, Iranian leaders have been very clear that their ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel. Yet, given the overwhelming strength of the IDF it is unlikely that Iran believes that it could defeat Israel in a conventional war on the field of battle. Instead, Iran is pursuing a much more sophisticated long-term strategy that does not necessary involve a full scale conventional war.
Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence and director of a leading Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) warned that Iran’s current strategy is based on the concept of attrition.
In a 2018 INSS conference, Yadlin said, the Iranian strategy would deploy “…conventional power to disintegrate Israel. That’s the goal – to disintegrate Israel, to make its life so miserable through local proxies on its borders that it will lead to internal collapse…”
He went on to say that Iran’s long-term nuclear ambitions are meant to develop a nuclear “umbrella” to provide cover for these conventional capabilities, and the conventional capabilities in the hands of proxies are intended to deter an Israeli attack on Iran’s potential nuclear program.
We saw the beginnings of this strategy after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Since then, Iran has invested millions of dollars into supporting Palestinian terror proxies that target Israeli civilians. Iran’s goal: to literally blow up the hopes for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And in that regard, Iran succeeded.
Between 1993 and 2008, no less than 170 Palestinian suicide bombers exploded themselves on Israeli buses, in restaurants and shopping malls. These suicide bombings, and other terror attacks, killed 1,000 civilians and wounded many thousands more.
Although Palestinian terror groups provided the hateful ideology and the suicide bombers, it was Iran that provided the means to commit mass murder by providing weapons, funding and training for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Since 2008, Israel has largely been able to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings. As a result, Iran has since focused on funding and supplying rockets- and the technology to manufacture rockets- to its terror proxies in Gaza.
After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 10,000 rockets at Israeli civilians including 3,800 rockets during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
Iran’s ultimate goal is not only to murder Israeli civilians, but to destroy the hopes for peace and to ultimately demoralize the Israeli population. After all, if there were ever to be peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Iran’s terror proxies- especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad-would be out of business.
Yet, Iran’s strategy to pursue the destruction of Israel goes beyond the Palestinian arena, and it has had deadly consequences for the wider Middle East.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Iran has spent $16 billion dollars to provide the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad with ammunition, weapons and funding. Moreover, Iran has trained and deployed Hezbollah and thousands of Shia fighters from across the Middle East to prop up the brutal dictator of Syria.
The massive support the Iran provided to the Assad regime makes Iranian leaders guilty of aiding and abetting Syria in committing war crimes including the torture and murder of more than 100,000 civilians who have disappeared inside Syrian prisons.
And why did Iran go to all this trouble in Syria?
In a 2018 article in the Atlantic Magazine, Middle East expert Karim Sadjadpour wrote, “Distilled to its essence, Tehran’s steadfast support for Assad is not driven by the geopolitical or financial interests of the Iranian nation, nor the religious convictions of the Islamic Republic, but by a visceral and seemingly inextinguishable hatred for the state of Israel”.
Think of the enormity of this tragedy: Half a million dead Syrians and more than five million refugees so that Iran can use Syria to work for the destruction of Israel. Indeed, over the past three years, Iran has been working very hard to turn Syria into another platform to launch attacks on Israel.
In an interview given in January to Brett Stephens of the New York Times, then IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot said this of Iran’s ambitions for Syria: “Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”
In addition, Iran has also sought to build long-range missile bases in Syria that would target Israel to complement the Hezbollah arsenal in Lebanon. Since 2017, the IDF has carried out some 200 air strikes in Syria to prevent the development of this dangerous threat.
When we put the pieces of this puzzle together, we see a very dangerous picture evolving before our eyes. Iran is determined to surround Israel from all sides by putting rockets and long-range precision missiles into the hands of terror proxies in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria in order to threaten and ultimately demoralize the Israeli civilian population.
Iran’s dangerous strategy also raises several questions about the response of the international community: Why have human rights activists in the west ignored the tremendous amount of death and destruction caused by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the wider Middle East? How can the liberal democracies of Europe conduct business-as-usual with Iran while it has the blood of so many innocent people on its hands?
Since it was created in 2008, the nonpartisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) has been asking the questions that advocates for peace and human rights should have been asking. That is why UANI, “…works to ensure the economic and diplomatic isolation of the Iranian regime in order to compel Iran to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, support for terrorism and human rights violations”.
Until the international community decides to confront the Iranian regime and demand that it adhere to norms of international behavior, new wars will break out, innocent people will continue to die, and we will not see hope for peace in the Middle East.