Israeli Security Cabinet Member Warns of Further Iranian Aggression in the Mideast
JNS.org – For years, Israel has been grappling with a new reality in the Middle East in which Iran has increasingly emerged as an ambitious and aggressive force to be reckoned with. This development follows on the heels of the war in Iraq, the collapse of regimes during the Arab Spring, and the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that gave Iran more than $150 billion in exchange for loose nuclear restrictions.
Iran now has a military presence throughout much of the region, either via its own troops or terror proxies, including Hezbollah and Hamas. In particular, Iran has significantly expanded its presence in southern Syria, opening up another front against Israel.
But according to Yoav Galant, Israel’s minister of Construction and Housing, a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet, and a former head of IDF Southern Command, the Jewish state has little choice but to prepare for a situation in which Iran further expands its destabilizing influence along Israel’s borders.
“Iranians are using the so-called vacuum that was created in the Middle East because of the collapse of regimes, and they are trying to create a Shiite arc from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea,” Galant said at a meeting for reporters at an event hosted by the Israel Project in Jerusalem.
“All of a sudden, we can find ourselves in a situation where Israel and Jordan are surrounded by Iranian supporters, Shiite militias, and many others, yet this will only be the first phase,” he said. “In the second phase, they will create a war of attrition against Israel and create a second Lebanon on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, meaning we will have one front from the Mediterranean to the Jordanian border.”
Galant suggested that these phases are only the beginning. Iran may try to put Israel in an even more compromising position along its longest, eastern border. “I am sure they are thinking about the next phase, which will be how to collapse Jordan and create another front of 400 kilometers against Israel,” he stated.
Nevertheless, he affirmed, “Israel will not allow the creation of an Iranian Shiite military in Syria,” noting that the Jewish state “cannot accept a second front in the Golan Heights, and we cannot allow the Iranians to have a launch pad in Syria so they can transfer weapons of mass destruction and ruin the equilibrium we have in the Middle East between us and our neighbors.”
Galant also noted that the presence of Russia in Syria presents some delicate contradictions for Israel.
“For now, the Russians are using the Iranians and militias, including Hezbollah, as boots on the ground,” he said, explaining that Russia seeks an increased presence along the Mediterranean for shipping and its navy. “Yet when the [Syrian civil] war will be over, they will be competitors. Therefore, I believe the Russians don’t want the Iranians to be part of the control of Syria” after the war.
Despite the fact that Russia is working with Iran in Syria, Galant does not consider Russia to be an enemy.
“There is an independent Russian interest to secure the western side of Syria. We understand it. We talk to the Russians; they talk to us,” Galant told JNS. “We respect the Russians. We believe that Russia is not the enemy of Israel. We are close allies. We should use the upsides of their presence and try to avoid the downsides of their presence.”
“When a superpower is here, it gives a dimension of stabilization to the situation,” he continued, noting that Russia can help keep Israel out of the Syrian conflict by preventing escalation. “War between Israel and Hezbollah does not serve Russia’s interests, and they can use their influence.”
Galant explained that while Russia is involved and Israel “is on the frontlines,” the problem of Iranian aggression does not belong only to Israel. “This is a problem of the free world,” he said.
“No one would like the Iranians to stay permanently in Syria,” Galant asserted. “The Sunni world is very worried about this situation. The Europeans don’t like the idea of two million Alawites and Shiites pushing Sunni [refugees] towards Europe. That is what will happen if there will be Alawite/Shiite control” at the end of Syria’s brutal civil war.
“Israel and the United States understand the situation very well,” he stated, though he called the previous administration of President Barack Obama “a deviation in the traditional American course.”
“But I believe that right now, under the current administration, common sense has brought America back on course,” Galant said, adding that his message for the international community as the United States reconsiders its participation in the Iran nuclear deal is that “Iran is not the solution, Iran is the problem.”
“There should be a major diplomatic effort,” added Galant, “to push the Iranians back to Iran and to stabilize the region.”
He said the first step towards turning back Iranian aggression is to cancel the nuclear deal, breaking with Israeli Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz, who recently stated that the deal could be repaired.
Galant cautiously acknowledged that the cancellation of the deal could lead to confrontation between Iran and the United States, and Israel recognizes that it may stand in the crosshairs.
“We remember what happened here in 1991,” he said. “[US Gen. Norman] Schwarzkopf is taking Iraq, and Iraq is shooting 40 missiles at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. They look at us as part of the US, the 51st state. The Israeli imperative is to be ready to deter our enemies.”
Galant insisted that no matter what’s coming, Israel will be ready, noting that “the penetration a few weeks ago of an Iranian drone into Israel is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“We are a very powerful country — economically, technologically, militarily, and on the intelligence and cyber side,” he stated. “We don’t like to demonstrate our capabilities, but we cannot allow the Iranians to get to a superior position in Syria and to gain a position during the coming events.”
Alex Traiman is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist.