Iran is Using Syria as a Testing Ground

September 12, 2013 6:42 am 2 comments

The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in Iran. Photo: Nanking2012/Wikimedia Commons.

A vital debate is raging in the United States over a key question: Does the Assad regime pose a greater threat to international security than the radical Islamist elements fighting to topple the Syrian dictator? And how would a military strike alter the balance?

As Congress debates the merits of military action in Syria, concerns are being raised by some observers that hurting the Assad regime could strengthen the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, thereby doing more harm than good to regional and global security.

During these tumultuous and chaotic times in the Middle East, it is more difficult than ever to assemble and update an accurate, comprehensive threat assessment picture, one which takes into account both near and distant dangers, and which can distinguish between security problems based on their level of severity.

There is not one uniform view among Israeli defense experts over what outcome would be best for Israel, in light of the fact that no one can know with certainty what will come in Assad’s place.

Most observers agree that from Israel’s perspective, the al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Syria pose a very real and growing threat, but one which is significantly smaller in scope and more easily contained than the threat posed by a far more powerful axis: Iran, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah.

This view is based on the fact that the Syrian regime forms a central component in the Iranian bloc. It is this bloc, on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons, and with access to unconventional weapons and state-sponsored conventional weaponry, that is the top threat to Israel’s security.

Syria is the bridge connecting Tehran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Bashar Al-Assad has brought Syria closer to Iran and Hezbollah, and today relies on them for his survival. Assad is facilitating the transit of advanced Iranian arms to Hezbollah, as well as supplying it with Syrian-made weapons.

Syria is viewed by the Iranian regime as its critical forward base and springboard to eventual regional domination.

With Syrian help, Iran has armed Hezbollah with 70-80,000 rockets that are pointed at Israeli cities. Hezbollah’s firepower has the potential to paralyze the Israeli home front in a future war.

The most critical threat is the Iranian nuclear weapons program, which is edging forward all the time.

If Iran isn’t stopped, Hezbollah, and other terrorist semi-states like Hamas in Gaza, could try to attack Israel while enjoying protection from an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

The same pattern can repeat itself on an even larger scale in the future. Iranian-sponsored terrorist networks might attack Western cities with impunity if they are emboldened by a nuclear-armed Iran.

The collapse of the Assad regime would deal a serious blow to Tehran and Hezbollah, while significantly improving Israel’s strategic situation.

Furthermore, a Syrian regime that is only weakened by a U.S. strike, yet deterred from deploying a chemical weapon again, could in turn deter the entire Iranian network, and give Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini pause before considering further progress on his nuclear program.

According to former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin,”Iran has all of the capabilities it needs to decide to create a nuclear weapon. The day of the decision could be tonight, when they might choose to break out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

U.S. influence and deterrence has never been more needed in the region, and it has never been more lacking.

If Iran, the world’s most radical state – whose leaders have publicly declared their desire to see Israel destroyed – gets hold of humanity’s most destructive weapons, the effect on regional security would be devastating.

Sunni Arab countries, made up of Gulf states and secular countries like Jordan and Egypt, are all deeply concerned about the potential of nuclear weapons in the hands of Shi’ite Iran.

It is impossible to divorce Syria’s use of chemical weapons from the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is fighting with the Syrian army against the rebels, while thousands of Hezbollah fighters are in Syria too, fighting alongside Assad’s forces.

The Iranian-led axis views Syria as a battleground where it can experiment with unconventional weapons and push the boundaries on international prohibitions against weapons of mass destruction.

An indecisive response to August’s chemical massacre in Damascus runs the risk of emboldening Iran and its allies. They in turn will continue in their scheme to emerge as leaders of the Muslim Middle East, acquire nuclear weapons, and confront Israel and the moderate Sunni states.

None of these concerns negate the dangers from a revitalized al-Qaeda network in Syria.

Estimates vary about the number of radical Islamists among opposition fighters. The fact remains that jihadi groups are growing quickly there. They make up some of the most effective fighting units, and are thriving in the power vacuum and deadly battlegrounds of Syria.

The jihadi presence in Syria has begun infecting neighboring states too, such as Lebanon and Iraq, and is likely to spread to other territories experiencing power vacuums, like Egypt’s troubled Sinai Peninsula, while threatening stable countries such as Jordan. A spillover of terrorists to other lands is inevitable.

While the Sunni radical threat is very real, it is also limited in scope at this time, as far as Israel is concerned.

Small terrorist groups can fire rockets and mortars at Israel, and launch cross-border attacks. But this is a threat the IDF can contain, and for which it has spent many months preparing.

In contrast, a war with the Iranian axis would take on a significantly higher magnitude.

When weighing the extent of the danger presented by pro-al-Qaeda groups in Syria, one might also factor in the likelihood that they will be engaged in a power struggle, sectarian warfare, and battles with more moderate elements of the Free Syrian Army for years to come.

This subsequent conflict could hamper their ability to organize serious attacks.

To be sure, the security problem posed by jihadis is no laughing matter. As they continue to raid weapons storehouses once owned by the Syrian army, Israel must think ahead about a scenario involving a raid by al-Qaeda on a chemical weapons facility controlled by the Assad regime.

A reality in which al-Qaeda is armed with chemical weapons can never be accepted.

But right now, Iran is just a few months away from a working nuclear weapon, should it decide to obtain one. Its ally in Damascus massacred more than 1,400 civilians with sarin gas, and its ally in Lebanon stockpiles more rockets and missiles than any arsenal in the hands of most modern militaries.

For all of these reasons, a failure to deter the Iran-Syria-Hezballoh axis now could result in a future security deterioration, the outcome of which would be more extensive than any immediate threat posed by jihadis in Syria.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

2 Comments

  • I just read a new book predating the latest U.S. debacle on Syria, which not only predicted the U.S. retreat from the world stage, but the rise of the new Islamic Persian Empire. Amazon Kindle’s new book, The Bahrain Protocol, is not only a thriller, but an eye-opener on how Israel may be forced to handle Iran’s nukes with its new partner-Saudi Arabia.

  • I tell you one thing Hizbullah will be more willing to holds its fire because after the next war. I promise you will never see a build up of terror inventory that threaten Israel again from the North. And an S-300 or Iskander is no deterrent to protect that terror inventory build up.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s memoir follows the classic form, telling the story of his years at the Pentagon during the Bush and Obama administrations. He focuses on what he did and experienced personally as secretary, neither writing a broad policy treatise nor recounting the entire history of the administrations in which he served. In so doing, Gates provides penetrating insights about the inner workings of US national security decision-making. Had I been George W. Bush, I would [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.