While the world’s attention is focused on the coronavirus and the potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, there are major events happening in the Middle East regarding Iran’s missile program and its nuclear ambitions. Given these developments, it’s important to look at the wider context with a focus on the dangerous strategy developed by Iranian leaders who call for the destruction of Israel.
On June 26th, a mysterious explosion occurred outside the Iranian capital of Tehran at a major missile production facility. A week later, a fire was reported at Natanz in a facility for the production of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium. Some analysts raised the possibility of a cyberattack, and a report in a Kuwaiti newspaper attributes the attacks to Israel.
Over the past months, there has also been a significant increase in air strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. Although Israel has not claimed responsibility for these attacks, it is widely understood that these ongoing operations are connected to what the Israeli military calls, “the campaign between the wars.”
The goal of the Israeli strategy is to delay the next war, and hopefully to preempt a much greater threat to the survival of Israel.
What is the exact nature of this threat?
Iran’s military strategy toward Israel can be summed up in four words: “A ring of fire”. The term refers to the efforts of Iran to expand its precision guided missile project throughout the Middle East in order to build , “… a ring of fire around the State of Israel.”
The phrase was coined by Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Research Division of Israeli Military Intelligence. Today, he is a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
In an important speech given a year ago, Amidror explained, “The first element is Hezbollah in Lebanon, the second element is the independent Iranian war machine in Syria which will be connected to tens of thousands of Shiite militia members located in Syria or Lebanon, or both, and a land corridor going from Iran through Iraq into Syrian and Lebanon.”
In Lebanon, Iran has already succeeded in supplying its loyal proxy Hezbollah with a massive arsenal of more than 130,000 rockets. Over the past several years, Iran has been working to upgrade these rockets into precision guided missiles.
In addition, Iran is also working to build production facilities inside Syria to manufacture precision guided missiles.
It’s important to note that Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the precision guided missile project go hand-in-hand.
General Amidror warned, “Under a nuclear umbrella, the Iranians will be free to do whatever they want in the Middle East including to build this ring of fire and to use it against Israel in the future…If they succeed to build this ring of fire, no one in Israel will have the ability to decide to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Yet, some observers wonder how Iran could pose a danger to the survival of Israel without having a strong conventional army that could threaten a land invasion of the Jewish state as Arab armies did in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The answer comes from Uzi Rubin, one of Israel’s leading experts on missile defense, and now a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. In a paper that Rubin published on June 16th, titled, “Israel and the Precision Guided Missile Threat”, Rubin wrote this about Iran: “Its precision missiles will be able to paralyze any vital installation or terrorize any civilian population center in Israel.”
And therein lays the key to understanding the nature of the Iranian missile threat to Israel.
In an interview that took place a year ago, Rubin said this about Iran’s strategy: “Basically they are not fighting armies, they are fighting societies. Their target is not to defeat a foreign army… They want to defeat the society behind the army… to break the spirit of the enemy.”
Even Israel’s vaunted missile defense systems- like Iron Dome and David’s Sling- would be incapable of defending against massive salvos of incoming rockets and missiles. As Rubin wrote, “Active defense cannot guarantee a hermetic defense.”
Beyond the growing threats to Israel from Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Syria, we can see a microcosm of Iran’s strategy already at work in southern Israel in the border communities around Gaza.
Since 2007, Gaza has been controlled by two terrorist organizations: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both organizations receive funding, training and weapons from Iran.
Over the past 13 years, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired more than 13,000 rockets at Israeli civilians, the majority targeting cities and towns in southern Israel. Yet, on several occasions, these rockets have also been launched at the heavily populated Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
Fortunately, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts the great majority of these rockets. Nevertheless, the accumulated effects of hearing sirens and constantly running to shelter does take a heavy toll on Israeli civilians, especially children.
NATAL, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, reports significantly increased levels of trauma in the areas of southern Israel most heavily impacted by the rocket attacks. To their great credit, Israelis have shown a high level of resiliency in spite of this abnormal situation. However, PTSD among children is very common, especially in towns like Sderot located next to the Gaza border.
Given everything that Iran is doing to destabilize the region and target Israel, one would think that the international community would be looking for ways to hold Iran accountable. Sadly, the opposite is true.
On October 18th, the U.N. Arms Embargo on Iran that is based on Security Council Resolution 2231 will expire. This was another element of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) that also has sunset provisions. An end to the embargo would allow Iran to openly purchase missiles and other conventional weapons from China, North Korea and Russia.
In a recent oped published on the website of Radio Farda, Jason Brodsky, Policy Director for United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) wrote, “…the inclusion of a sunset provision pertaining to conventional weaponry with the lack of any binding reciprocal Iranian pledge in changing its malign regional posture was most troublesome.”
That’s why the United States is leading the effort to extend the arms embargo.
From Gaza to Lebanon and Syria, Iran continues to invest tremendous resources into arming terror proxies in order to build a “ring of fire” around the Jewish state. The international community must not leave Israel to defend itself against Iran on its own.