Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →