Appeasement emboldened Iran but the tide has now turned
Geopolitical and military tensions between Israel and Iran have climbed to unparalleled heights. The Iranian regime’s obsessive enmity toward Israel has led to the development of a major strategic and militaristic agenda of setting up a robust military presence near the Syria-Israeli border and utilizing state or non-state actors that are strategically and geopolitically allied with Tehran.
Iran achieved this critical objective in Lebanon by founding, training and arming Hezbollah. And, when the Syrian conflict erupted, Iran found its long-awaited political opportunity. The Iranian leaders began taking advantage of the Syrian civil war by establishing a military base close to the Israeli border. Without
Last week, Iran made a vital strategic and military mistake by launching rockets at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights. It reportedly fired a barrage of nearly 20 rockets. This was the first time that Iran had utilized a foreign territory and its own forces to launch an attack on Israel. Tel Aviv responded by carrying out its most extensive air strikes on Syria for decades. The Israeli attacks against Iranian military bases were carried out for strategic and geopolitical reasons and have most likely destroyed a significant part of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria.
For almost four decades, Tehran has been using asymmetrical warfare and third parties — militias, terrorist groups and proxies — to undermine or attack Israel. The main reason for this strategy is to avoid direct armed conflict, which could lead to Iran’s defeat and significantly endanger the hold on power of the ruling clerics. In addition, by deploying third party groups, Tehran has been attempting not to leave any footprints, which makes it extremely difficult for Israel and the international community to accuse it of terrorist activities.
Tehran’s recent military miscalculation came when it believed that attacking Israel from Syria would still be considered as applying the same modus operandi of a shadow war, or asymmetrical warfare, which makes its hard to point the finger of blame at Tehran. But, to the Iranian leaders’ surprise, Israel directly accused Tehran of carrying out the “first direct attack ever” on Israel.
The dynamic has changed and the Iranian leaders ought to be cognizant of the fact that any attack on Israel from Syria will most likely be considered an Iranian attack, which could be deadly for Tehran. There are several reasons behind such an assumption. First of all, Bashar Assad has granted significant power to Iran because his forces have inferior capabilities compared to the opposition and rebel groups. During the seven years of the Syrian conflict, Iran’s position has evolved from providing advisory assistance to infiltrating and dominating the Syrian political, security and intelligence systems.
Secondly, under the leadership of the commander of the Quds Force, Iran has been running command and control centers in Syria such as the one in Tiyas, also known as the T-4 base. Tehran has dispatched its military to Syria on a large scale.
Tehran’s recent military miscalculation came when it believed that attacking Israel from Syria would still be considered as applying the same modus operandi of a shadow war, or asymmetrical warfare, which makes its hard to point the finger of blame at Tehran. But, to the Iranian leaders’ surprise, Israel directly accused Tehran of carrying out the “first direct attack ever” on IsraelDr. Majid Rafizadeh
In addition, Iranian leaders should be aware that the line-up of regional and global alliances has shifted considerably. Under the presidency of Barack Obama, Iran was emboldened and empowered partly because the Obama White House criticized Israeli policy, pursued appeasement policies with Tehran, and turned a blind eye to Iran’s military adventurism in the region.
But now the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, enjoys a robust ally in President Donald Trump, who will back Israel’s policies and military action. The White House statement after the air strikes against Iran’s military bases in Syria demonstrates this fundamental shift: “The United States condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense. The Iranian regime’s deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East.”
In addition, Trump’s recent withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, has sent a politically encouraging and supportive message to Israel that Washington will not tolerate Iran’s military adventurism and expansionist policies.
Furthermore, Iranian leaders should be aware that, even though some global powers such as Russia and China support Iran’s role in Syria, it would be inimical to their strategic and geopolitical interests to side with the Iranian regime against Israel.
Finally, Iran has greatly expanded its influence in the last eight years and is posing a significant security threat to Israel. This is mainly due to the appeasement policies of the international community toward Tehran, particularly the Obama administration’s tilt towards the mullahs. Iran has been emboldened and empowered to such an unprecedented level that it is unleashing its military, and has been taking advantage of the Syrian conflict. But the Iranian leaders should be extremely cautious that the tide has turned. Any strategic or military miscalculation could be fatal for the regime.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh