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February 21, 2018 4:19 pm

Iran Tests Aggressive Strategy Against Israel

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon / JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a fragment from a downed Iranian drone during an address to the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 18, 2018. Photo: Screenshot.

JNS.orgOn February 10, Iran launched a drone into Israeli airspace, shocking Israel — and sending the Jewish state into retaliatory action. While Israel’s response may have forced Iran back to its previous proxy tactics for the time being, it has set the stage for future incidents.

Israel responded to the drone by bombing 12 Iranian and Syrian targets; during those attacks, Syrian anti-aircraft installations shot down an Israeli F-16 jet.

Last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed participants at the Munich Security Conference, where he focused on the Iranian threat from Syria.

“We will act, if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies, but against Iran itself,” warned Netanyahu, also saying that “Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck.”

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Despite the tough rhetoric from Netanyahu, it remains unclear if Iran’s intrusion was meant to attack — or to test Israel’s defenses.

According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) authored by Ayelet Savyon and U. Kafash, Iran changed its strategy and acted directly against Israel instead of using proxies — but quickly changed back because of Israel’s harsh retaliatory air-attack.

The report argued that the Iranian drone incursion into Israel could also have been to divert their public’s attention from domestic protests.

Savyon, the head of MEMRI’s Iran desk and one of the authors of the report, told JNS that Iran’s restraint to Israel’s counterattack on Syria can be attributed to two possible explanations.

First, it could be that Iran was “deterred by Israel’s show of force and readiness for war with them;” or second, that perhaps “the Russians calmed them down.”

Interestingly, according to the report, Iran quickly retreated from sending the drone into Israel — and later denied the existence of the drone at all.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on February 10: “The claim about an Iranian drone that flew [into Israel] and about Iran’s involvement in the downing of the attacking Zionist fighter jet is too ridiculous to address because Iran’s presence in Syria is only in an military advisory capacity at the behest of the legitimate and legal Syrian government.”

Professor Ali Ansari of St. Andrews University in Scotland, the founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, told JNS: “The one thing that did stand out for me was the report that the IRGC (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard) may be freelancing in Syria without the knowledge of the formal Iranian government.”

Ansari also pointed out that Iran could have been testing Israel’s defense capabilities — as well as its reaction. Iran is “in the habit of pushing the envelope to test responses, and this would seem to have been another example of this,” he added, noting that this was a risky strategy to adopt.

However, MEMRI’s Savyon disagrees with this explanation, because of the timing. “It was Tehran that wanted a big show for Revolution Day [February 11],” she argued.

The New York Times reported on Monday that the drone incident, which set off a flurry of violence, “drew new attention to how deeply Iran has embedded itself in Syria.”

According to the report, some in Israel see a potential for a “First Northern War,” with the IDF having to cross into both Lebanon and Syria. According to some sources, Iranian forces and their allies hold two positions near Israel’s border in the Golan Heights, and ten others located between Damascus International Airport and the Golan.

As the Syria war has shifted in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor — thanks to Iran, Hezbollah and Russia — Iran and Hezbollah now have more space from which to launch attacks against Israel from inside Syria.

The Iranian drone incident signified that Syria is now a real second front in the north alongside Lebanon — and that Israel needs to work diplomatically, militarily and covertly to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from deepening their presence in that country.

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