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

Iranian Moves in Syria Threaten Israel

Filed under: Hizbullah, Iran, Israel, Syria, U.S. Policy

Iranian Moves in Syria Threaten Israel

From an interview with i24news on April 23, 2018

Q: In what ways does Iran’s entrenchment in Syria pose a danger for Israel?

Kuperwasser: What the Iranians are trying to do is to turn Syria into a base from which they can threaten Israel in a much easier way than they can from far away in Iran. Even if they are trying to have nuclear weapons, they know it’s going to take time. Meanwhile, they have to build their capabilities, and they are trying to bring in elements to make it possible for them to threaten Israel in three ways:

  • The first is by improving the capabilities of Hizbullah. The main focus in this respect is to try to enable Hizbullah to have weapons that are more precisely guided. Israel is trying to prevent that from happening.
  • Second, they were trying to build, until recently, a base for carrying out terror attacks against Israel from the areas adjacent to the border in the Golan Heights.
  • Third, the Iranians are trying to build a base inside Syria itself from which they can attack Israel using their various military capabilities, and use Syria as a place for the production of weapons that they cannot produce in Iran.

All of these are direct threats for Israel, and we saw that on February 10, when they tried to carry out an attack against Israel directly from Syria.

Q: It is said that an Iranian retaliatory strike against Israel is likely in the works. Do you agree with that assessment?

Kuperwasser: They have many options. They may consider carrying out terror attacks against Israeli targets outside the region. They did that in the past in Buenos Aires, so everything is possible.  We should be on the alert, and yes, the Iranians will try to find a way to retaliate. But it’s not retaliation because they started it by launching an attack on Israel.

This is an ongoing war. The idea of using Syrian territory as a base from which they can threaten Israel was an Iranian idea that was not thwarted by the Russians in spite of what Israel said to them. Netanyahu went to Putin eight times in order to tell him all about that.

Q: It didn’t really work, right?

Kuperwasser: We don’t know, because things could’ve been much worse by now. So you cannot know if this is the case. There are all kinds of things that they can bring in. They didn’t bring in planes, they didn’t bring in rockets and missiles.

The growing Iranian presence in Syria is mainly a result of the decision taken mainly by the Obama administration to let Iran play a role in Syria. This was not the case until the Americans and the Iranians agreed on the JCPOA, on the nuclear deal, but right with the nuclear deal came American acquiescence to the Iranian role in Syria. We are still eating the fruits of this today.

Q: President Donald Trump will have to decide by May 12th whether to restore the U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif has warned that if the U.S. pulls out of the deal, “Iran has many options, and those options are not pleasant.”

Kuperwasser: What the Iranians are really worried about is that President Trump is going to deliver on his promise to take steps regarding the JCPOA if it is not fixed. The way things look right now, it is not going to be fixed, so he’s going to nix it.  I think the result is going to be that the options of the Iranians will be very limited. The most important thing that’s going to happen is that the Iranian rial is already plunging. It’s just going to continue nosediving, and God knows what’s about to happen to the Iranian economy? Nobody in the major companies in the world is going to prefer doing business with Iran.

Q: French President Macron doesn’t want Trump to leave the nuclear deal. Can Macron sway him?

Kuperwasser: I don’t think that on this extremely important issue, Trump is going to change his mind just because of something that Macron is going to tell him, unless Macron has a way to fix the deal. But I don’t think that he has one, and I think for Trump it is extremely important to lead.

He knows well that this deal is terrible for the West. It paves the road for the Iranians to have a big nuclear arsenal in 12 or 13 years. Who’s ready to support a deal like that? At the end of the day, Macron will have to stand with the United States. He doesn’t want it to happen now, and we know that once the U.S. pulls out of the deal, it means the re-imposition of American sanctions.

American sanctions are secondary sanctions. They’re not about the United States not dealing with Iran. They’re about not dealing with anyone who deals with Iran. This is so powerful and so painful for the Iranians. Now they are trying to deter the Americans from doing it, but once this is done, France is going to have to reassess – as will the Iranians themselves.