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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

A Single Strategy for Two Fronts

Filed under: Iran, Israel, Syria, The Middle East

A Single Strategy for Two Fronts
Israel’s campaign to counter Iranian influence in Syria since 2015. (Le Beck International, Twitter @LeBeckInt)
  • Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani is trying to launch a war of attrition against Israel from inside Syrian territory, copying the Gazan model.
  • Israel needs to go back to its earlier ambiguous policy, mend its fences with Russia, and explain to Bashar Assad the price he will pay if he follows Iran’s lead.

The firing of an Iranian missile from Syrian territory on January 20, 2019, toward the Hermon, which was crowded with tourists, was a particularly dangerous and serious event. According to senior IDF sources, the Iranians were preparing this response for quite a while.

IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis stated that it was a major decision taken a long time ago by the Iranians, and the firing of the missile was an Iranian attempt to attack Israel.

By firing the missile toward Israel, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards tried to give Israel the same signal that it received from the terror organizations in Gaza several months ago. Then Hamas changed the rules of the game from what they had been since the cease-fire agreement brokered at the end of Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza presented a new equation, according to which “fire will be answered by fire.”

Iran is adopting the same policy: every Israeli attack on Iranian targets inside Syrian territory will be met with an Iranian response firing toward Israel.

Israel’s campaign to counter Iranian influence in Syria since 2015. (Le Beck International, Twitter @LeBeckInt)

This is the strategy of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, who is trying to ignite a war of attrition on the northern border, comprised of brief clashes, similar to those Israel has been experiencing on the Gaza border since March 30, 2018.

Israel made the mistake of coming to terms with the general change in the rules of the game that was imposed upon it by terror organizations in Gaza. This mistake has been interpreted as weakness and has had ramifications on the northern border. Gen. Soleimani reckons that he will manage to change the rules of the game also on the northern border by firing missiles at Israel.

The Israeli response to the firing of Iranian missiles at the Hermon was expressed by an extensive attack on the Iranian Quds Force in Syria on January 21. It was a correct and justified response. Israel attacked more than 10 Iranian and Syrian targets. Now it has to wait and see if the message has been understood by the Iranian side. If it has not, Israel will need to find a reason as quickly as possible to strike another painful blow against the Quds Force in Syria to make sure that the message is understood.

Israel does not need to worry. The previous Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot defined these things correctly in an interview that he gave The New York Times on January 12, 2019, in which he said:

Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak. We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence, and we have the justification to act. 

Israel needs to return to its ambiguous policy with regard to everything connected to its military activities in Syria. Israel’s admission that it was responsible for hundreds of attacks inside Syrian territory hit the most sensitive nerves of Iranian and Syrian honor, humiliated their leadership, and strengthened their motivation to attack Israel to “restore their dignity.”

Commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani addressing Hizbullah fighters in the Latakia region of Syria. (Arab press)

Does Claiming Credit Cause Humiliation?

Israel’s combative statements through the media are perceived as acts of provocation. Broad Iranian statements regarding the destruction of the State of Israel must not provoke us. It is possible to pass these messages on in a different way, not through words but through deeds, primarily through attacks on targets inside Syrian territory without taking responsibility for them.

President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting in Sochi, May 2018. (Arab press)

The situation in Syria is currently different from that which prevailed at the beginning of the civil war. Russia is a true ally of Syria, and it is President Putin who holds the reins.

Therefore, intensive political activity needs to be invested in getting closer to Russia again and reaching new understandings with it about anything connected to Israeli military activity against Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

President Putin’s main interest is to achieve stability in Syria to preserve President Bashar Assad’s regime. The Israeli message needs to be that there will be no stability in Syria if Iran continues with its military entrenchment and its attempts to arm Hizbullah with accurate rockets and create another front against Israel in the Golan Heights.

The Russians did not keep their promise to Israel to distance the Iranians from the Syrian border with Israel. The latest Iranian missile was fired from a zone that Russia committed to be Iranian-free. The Israeli attacks need to be precise, with a preference for the bases and installations that Iran constructed in the Damascus region and close to the border.

Will President Bashar Assad get the message? (Arab press)

President Bashar Assad is allowing the Iranians to run wild and attack Israel from Syrian territory, and it will also need to pay the price. An Israeli strike on one of the symbols of the Syrian government can definitely show the Syrian president what is waiting for him if he does not restrain the Iranian Quds Force in Syria.