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January 6, 2016 7:44 am

Iranian-Saudi Tensions May Distract Iran’s Efforts to Attack Israel, Expert Says

avatar by Steven Emerson

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A Hezbollah outpost near the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo: Wikipedia.

A Hezbollah outpost near the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo: Wikipedia.

The dramatic escalation in the Iranian-Saudi Arabian rivalry poses critical potential ramifications for Israeli national security, according to Yaakov Amidror, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council.

Amidror — also formerly the head of Israeli military intelligence — told The Jerusalem Post that he expects the Iranian-Saudi crisis to prolong the Syrian civil war, leading both sides to increase support for their respective proxies in that country.

Such a scenario might intensify Israeli concerns of unpredictable and radical terrorist organizations consolidating bases of operations on the Jewish State’s northern borders.

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However, other analysts view Syrian fragmentation as a strategic benefit — at least temporarily removing Syria as a conventional military threat and forcing Iranian proxies, including Hezbollah, to divert resources and manpower to the Syrian front instead of conducting major attacks against Israel.

According to this perspective, Iran will also be more preoccupied with confronting Saudi Arabia in other regional theaters — including Bahrain, Yemen, and Iraq.

“That doesn’t meant they won’t do anything [toward Israel]. This doesn’t mean, for instance, that this will influence Hezbollah [backed by Iran] not to carry out revenge attacks against Israel. But it means that whenever there is something, there will be someone in Iran who will say that they have other problems to think about; we will not be the only issue they will be focusing on,” Amidror said.

This assessment supports other analyses about why Hezbollah failed to effectively retaliate to Israel’s reported assassination of arch-terrorist Samir KuntarOn Monday, Hezbollah detonated a large explosive on the Israel-Lebanon border, targeting two military vehicles. Israel said it suffered no casualties. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) followed with artillery fire against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, but limited its response to avoid escalating tensions.

The relatively weak show of force from Hezbollah suggests that the terrorist organization continues to be bogged down in the Syrian civil war, unwilling and incapable of seriously challenging Israel at the moment. Fighting in Syria has cost Hezbollah as much as a quarter of its fighters, Israeli military affairs journalist Yossi Melman says.

Those losses “neutralized the Shi’ite-Lebanese organization’s ability to act against Israel,” he writes. At the least, it makes the prospect of opening a second front with Israel less appealing. Hezbollah still enjoys an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets it can fire at Israel when it opts for a confrontation.

Even though Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies continue to enhance their presence in the Golan Heights for the purposes of targeting Israel, recent Iranian-Saudi tensions will likely force terrorist organizations that serve at Iran’s behest to focus more of their efforts and resources on other fronts beyond the Jewish State.

Steven Emerson is the Executive Director the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) where this article first appeared.

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