The Middle East is on the verge of a new regional order, which could go in one of two ways.
It could be dominated by an Iranian expansion, with Tehran filling up a regional vacuum, or, alternatively, by the rise of emboldened pro-American forces.
The entire region is at a crossroads as it waits to see whether the US and its Middle East allies are successful in stopping Iran’s expansion.
Currently, Iran is entering every arena in the region, and promoting its Shi’ite ideology. It does this by creating and expanding its proxies on the ground.
In Yemen, it has been able to flank Saudi Arabia through its support of the Shi’ite Houthis, whose army, Ansar Al-Allah, took over the capital, as well as the strategic Bab Al-Mandab straits.
IRAN: A THREAT COMMON TO ISRAEL AND JORDAN
A second Iranian thrust is occurring near Israel and the eastern Mediterranean.
In Lebanon, Iran is strategically strong thanks to its chief proxy, Hezbollah. In Syria, Iran has succeeded in creating a presence through its numerous agents and proxies. The Iranian axis is now threatening to move into southern Syria, from where it could threaten Israel.
What cannot be denied is that, so far, Iran’s strategy is succeeding. Israel and Jordan are facing an increasingly threatening northern front.
Iran is responsible for the ground war in Syria, and it is using this role to spread its influence.
An Iranian axis that moves southwards in Syria will create significant regional destabilization.
THE WEAPONS MAKING BUSINESS
A clear indication of the growing Iranian menace can be found in public disclosures on Iranian weapons factories which are being constructed in Lebanon for Hezbollah.
Such facilities mean Hezbollah can produce weapons for itself – even if the weapons trafficking routes that are used to supply it are disrupted.
This development represents the most strategically weighty dilemma for Israeli decision makers in the northern arena since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The Israeli government must decide whether or not to act against these weapons production facilities.
Russia, for its part, is playing a double game in respect to Iran’s expansion. On one level, it is engaged in a strategic – economic partnership with Iran. Its air force fights for the Assad regime, while the Iranians and their forces run the ground war for Assad.
On the other hand, Moscow has reached an understanding with Jerusalem about Syria, and the Russians are aware of Israel’s red lines on Iranian expansion. Russia has an interest in not giving Iran’s forces a green light to continue expanding towards Israel.
For Israel, demilitarizing the Syrian Golan Heights, and preventing the entrance of pro-Iranian military forces there, is a top objective.
WHAT IS THE TRUMP DOCTRINE?
All eyes are now on the Trump Administration, to see how it will respond to Iran’s push.
Washington has publicly identified Iran as a central threat in recent months.
But it remains to be seen if the US will broaden its intervention in Syria.
An increased American involvement would send a clear signal to Russia, warning Moscow against allowing the Iranians to send the region into a tailspin.
It would also send a strong message of support to Israel and the moderate Arab states, indicating that the US is serious about stopping the Iranian threat.
The arrival last month of the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier at Haifa, Israel, might offer an hint about the Trump Administration’s intentions.
America’s war against ISIS and other Sunni extremists is succeeding. ISIS looks like it is heading for an operational – though not an ideological – collapse.
Iran will be the first to jump into the vacuum left behind, unless America makes it clear that Syria is not Tehran’s for the taking.
A firm American step in Syria carries short-term risks of conflict, yet in the long-term, might stunt Tehran’s spread – and stabilize the region. There is much that remains to be seen and Israel has a vested interest in ensuring that the fragments fall as we wish in this regional kaleidoscope.
Edited by Yaakov Lappin
Co-Edited by Benjamin Anthony (www.oursoldiersspeak.org)
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF or the Foreign Ministry. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.