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December 4, 2015 4:14 pm

Israeli Defense Minister in Washington Predicts Iran and Its Mideast Proxies Will Grow Stronger Over Next Several Years

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Credit: Reuven Kapuscinski.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Credit: Reuven Kapuscinski.

Iran and its Middle East satellites like Hezbollah and other groups are going to become stronger in the coming years, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned US senators on Thursday, according to Army Radio.

The strengthening of Iran and its regional allies “is highly significant for ensuring Israel’s qualitative edge over countries in that area,” Ya’alon told the senators, according to Army Radio.

“There is a greater understanding of Israel’s special security needs in light of the significant changes happening in the region,” he told the senators. “And we appreciate and greatly respect the US commitment to Israel’s security.”

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Ya’alon’s comments reflect Israel’s concern that Iran is going to significantly boost military spending, including to groups like Hezbollah, once funds are released by the lifting of sanctions guaranteed by the nuclear deal reached by Iran and world powers in July.

But in addition to Hezbollah, Iran has continued to develop many non-Iranian Shia militias, many of which are fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran-ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad. The fighters represented in these militias hail most notably from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert with the Washington DC think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that Iran’s deployment of non-Iranian Shia militias in Syria ultimately poses a destabilizing threat to the Middle East, perhaps Europe.

“The development and use of non-Iranian Shiite militias in Syria risks the spread or rekindling of sectarian conflicts in the countries from which members of these militias hail, most notably Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iraq,” he said.

Alfoneh also testified that Iran’s military involvement and policies in Syria “destabilize America’s allies by exacerbating the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East.”

Ya’alon also addressed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, about a month after President Obama met with Israeli Prime Mininster Benjamin Netanyahu. The defense minister was asked to outline the Obama administration’s proposal for a 10-year US-Israeli defense memorandum.

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