Analysis

ANALYSIS - Have Israeli airstrikes reduced Iran's influence in Syria?

Israel has adopted a strategy to counter Iran’s expanding influence in Mideast

Ihsan al-Faqih   | 06.01.2022
ANALYSIS - Have Israeli airstrikes reduced Iran's influence in Syria?

The writer is an Anadolu Agency correspondent.

ISTANBUL

Iran has in recent decades succeeded in building a network of allies and proxies among Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq that advance Iranian interests against those of other rivals particularly the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

Despite being slapped with US and UN sanctions, the Shia-majority country has made milestone achievements in military industrialization, developing its long-range missile capabilities, and relying on allies within its traditional areas of influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.

So, Tehran has been gradually posing a threat towards the decades-old American strategy of protecting Israel and ensuring the latter's military edge over all countries in the region.

Iran has become increasingly confident of its ability to confront and harm Israel having defied years of US and UN sanctions and overcoming the "maximum pressure" campaign imposed by former US President Donald Trump in 2018, coupled with the achievements of its allied forces in Iraq.

US interests in Iraq have in recent months been increasingly targeted by missile and drone attacks that Washington blames on Iraqi Shia militias close to Iran. Tehran deploys the same tactics to support allies in Yemen against Saudi Arabia and allies in Syria and Lebanon against Israel.

Israel, alarmed by Iran’s growing influence, has adopted a counter strategy since the Arab Spring events to limit its rival’s presence in Syria and Lebanon -- countries Tel Aviv considers pivotal to its existence and national security.

One of the most threatening Iranian tools to Israeli security is the Hezbollah group in Lebanon. With the support of Iran, the paramilitary group has expanded its activities to Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, including in areas south of Syria -- the Daraa and Quneitra provinces -- that border Israel.

Iran’s strategy in facilitating the expansion of its influence in Syria and Lebanon stems from the vision that Israel cannot manage to engage in a conventional war on multiple fronts on its northern borders adjacent to Lebanon and Syria.

Israeli concern about possible Iranian threats coincides with the failure of seven rounds of Vienna negotiations between Iran and the Joint Working Group on its nuclear program and missile program, and Iran's implementation of naval and air maneuvers simulating war with Israel.

This also coincides with statements by Iranian officials to increase the rate of uranium enrichment to a ceiling higher than the one set by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and expectations by Israeli officials that Iran will be close to producing its nuclear bomb within months.

Several Israeli officials have hinted at the possibility of carrying out military action against Tehran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

In the last four years, regime-controlled areas in Syria have come under frequent Israeli attacks targeting sites and military bases used by regime forces and Iran-backed militias.

Through such attacks, Israel seeks to prevent Iran’s advanced weapons from reaching its borders, something the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is worried will "change the rules of the game.”

Gantz's statements came hours after Syrian and international media outlets reported that Israeli warplanes struck the Syrian port of Latakia in late December last year, the second such attack that month.

While Israel did not claim responsibility, Gantz called on the Syrian regime to prevent Iran from operating on Syrian territory warning to take action to thwart Iranian threats.

Israel believes that more attacks on sites linked to Iran's activities in Syria are crucial in disrupting arms and ammunition shipments and preventing the development of weapons at sites on Syrian territory.

In an evaluation of the Israeli army’s performance during 2022, the army confirmed that it had struck dozens of targets in Syria, three in Lebanon, and more than a hundred Israeli naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

As part of its preparations to strike targets deep inside Iran, American newspapers published reports of Israel’s request to the US to speed up the delivery of two refueling planes in line with a previous agreement between the two allies. Israel’s request for refueling planes came following the refusal of UAE and Saudi Arabia to allow the latter’s warplanes to land at their bases to refuel.

Israel fears that a limited strike on Iranian nuclear reactors may lead to temporary disruption of the program, but it will not lead to an end to its threats to Israel.

It is also worried that Iran will directly respond to Israeli attacks with ballistic missiles from Iranian territory and allied forces such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and from the Hashd al-Shaabi militia (Popular Mobilization Forces) and dozens of armed Shia groups in Iraq and Syria.

Tel Aviv is also concerned that the interests of the US its allies in the region may be targeted, including threatening the security and safety of international shipping lanes through the Bab al-Mandab Strait by the Houthi group in Yemen or the Strait of Hormuz by the naval forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

* Translated by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara.

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