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 Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →