By: Jordan Abu-Sirriya, Columnist
Iran’s military and political presence in Syria has steadily increased over the last three years, helping to stabilize the al-Assad regime and also strengthening the Iranian-Syrian relationship. According to the Israeli government, Iran’s attempts to create a paramilitary structure in Syria mirror Iran’s backing of Shia terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon.[i] Iran tasks these proxy groups “with preserving the pro-Iranian government in Syria, maintaining its land corridors, supporting ‘the Resistance Axis,’ and creating an additional military threat to Israel.”[ii] For this reason, since September 2018, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes targeting Iranian proxies, weaponry, communication facilities in Syria.[iii] [iv]
Over the last month, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and President Vladimir Putin demanded that Israel halt its ‘arbitrary’ and ‘provocative’ airstrikes in Syria. Russia has accused Israel’s airstrikes of violating the United Nations Charter through “unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country.”[v] However, Russia’s claims are inaccurate and myopic because Israel has the right to defend itself and protect its borders. Israel should continue carrying out airstrikes in Syria as long as Iranian proxies, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups continue destabilizing the Israeli-Syrian border and threaten Israel and Palestinian territories. Sustained Israeli airstrikes stabilize the Israeli-Syrian border, resulting in less terrorists, weaponry, and radical ideologies spreading to individuals and groups in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon.
Contrary to Russia’s belief that Israeli airstrikes are unnecessary and arbitrary, the Israeli airstrikes combat Iranian proxies, the Syrian government, and the Iranian government, all of whom hope to destroy Israel. For instance, last February the Syrian government warned Israel not to meddle in the Syrian Civil War or else Israel would face malicious attacks from the Syrian government.[vi] Likewise, Hezbollah—a Lebanese Shia terrorist group and Iranian proxy— has dramatically increased threats to Israel since the inception of the Syrian Civil War. In June of 2018, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated that Israel has always desired for Syrian President al-Assad to be toppled and for Iran-proxies and Hezbollah to leave Syria; for these reasons Nasrallah said that “the day of the great war is coming [with Israel].”[vii] To make matters worse, both the Syrian and Iranian governments contain a number of lethal and malicious weapons, such as chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.[viii] The Syrian Archive—a Syrian-based nonprofit—has calculated 212 chemical attacks on the Syrian rebels used by the Syrian government, and Israel understands that if action—such as airstrikes against weapon facilities in Syria—is not taken then Israelis and Palestinians living in Israel could be next to be gassed or bombed.
Additionally, Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-proxy communication centers and weapon facilities in Syria aid in halting groups—such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Syrian-Shia groups— from attaining weaponry and transferring valuable information between governments and terrorist networks. Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah since the beginning of the Syrian civil war significantly increased the size and lethality of the group’s arsenal. Iranian proxy groups stow these weapons and missiles in the mountainous countryside of western Syria which could likely result in a strike on Israel.[ix] [x] Furthermore, Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s weapons supplies derive from Iran and transport through Syria.[xi] Israel’s airstrikes on Iranian weaponry and communication facilities in Syria thus reduces both the movement of weapons into Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, and the likelihood of an attack on Israel by one of these groups.
Lastly, Israeli airstrikes send a strong message to the Syrian government and Iranian government that their radical ideologies will not expand further into Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition to its strong partnerships in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and in Syria (al-Assad), Iran hopes to destabilize Israel by establishing a partnership with a similar proxy group in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Currently, Hamas does not follow Iran’s instruction to the extent that Hezbollah or al-Assad do. However, Iran’s increased funding and training for Hamas personnel in 2017 portends a deepened alliance between the two groups. This fact should continue to alarm the Israeli government and provoke Israel to break Iran’s hastily developing relationship between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.[xii] Airstrikes will not crush an ideology, but they may coerce Iran and the Syrian government to find new possible partners in the region, rather than Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
[i] Israel Defense Forces, “The Future of Iran’s Presence in Syria,” State of Israel, 2018, https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/facts-and-figures/iran-in-syria/the-future-of-irans-presence-in-syria/
[iii] Anna Ahronheim and Seth J. Frantzman, “Russia Calls Israeli Strikes In Syria ‘Provocative Act’,” The Jerusalem Post, December, 25, 2018. https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Report-Syrian-Air-Defenses-intercept-missiles-near-Damascus-575428
[iv] Joyce Karam, “Israel carries out airstrikes in Syria reportedly targeting Iranian militias,” The National, November, 30, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/israel-carries-out-airstrikes-in-syria-reportedly-targeting-iranian-militias-1.797482
[v] Harriet Sherwood, “Russia condemns Israeli air strikes on Syria,” Guardian News, January 31, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/31/russia-condemns-israeli-strike-syria
[vi] Stuart Winer and Judah Ari Gross, “Syria threatens Israel with ‘more surprises,”, The Times of Israel, February 13, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/syria-threatens-israel-with-more-surprises/
[vii] Times of Israel, “Hezbollah’s Nasrallah threatens Israel: ‘The day of great war is coming’,” The Times of Israel, June 8, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/nasrallah-hezbollah-wont-leave-syria-even-if-whole-world-tries-to-force-it/
[viii] Alicia Sanders-Zakre, “What you need to know about chemical weapons use in Syria,” Arms Control Association, September 26, 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2018-09-26/what-you-need-know-about-chemical-weapons-use-syria
[ix] David Kenner, “Why Israel Fears Iran’s Presence in Syria,” The Atlantic, July 22, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/hezbollah-iran-new-weapons-israel/565796/
[xi] Callum Paton, “Iran: Islamic Republic is Again Largest Backer of Hamas Against Israel Providing Weapons and Money for Resistance,” Newsweek, October 29, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/iran-islamic-republic-largest-backer-hamas-against-israel-providing-weapons-656256
[xii] Daniel Levin, “Iran, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” United States Institute of Peace, July 9, 2018, https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2018/jul/09/iran-hamas-and-palestinian-islamic-jihad