Regional Chess Game: Awaiting Iran’s Move
The sequence of events and developments on the ground in Syria last week increased the odds and hastened the scenario of an Israeli-Iranian military collision.
On April 9, 2018, an attack on an Iranian base, located in the T-4 Syrian Air Force Base, located in the Homs district of Syria, killed 14 Iranian military personnel, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers and the commander of the IRG Drone Force.
Foreign media quoted a Senior Israeli official who allegedly admitted that Israel conducted the attack. In response, the official Israeli Military Spokesperson, commented that Israel does not respond to reports made on foreign media platforms.
On Saturday, April 14, 2018 a joint US, UK, French attack caused substantial damage to Assad’s chemical weapon research and production centers.
The same day, reports indicated that major blasts occurred in an Iranian base located in Jabal Azzan, an area in Syria which is south of Aleppo. Reportedly, the explosions caused by unidentified jet planes, resulted in an unknown number of casualties. The Al-Mayadeen media platform associated with Hezbollah. denied the reports, arguing the blasts was caused by explosions of remnants of ammunition belonging to Syrian rebel groups.
The accumulating events of the last week present Iran with a dilemma.
Should it act militarily – thus conveying a message that it sticks to its red lines? In that context one should note that following the first direct Israeli-Iranian military collision on February 10, 2018 Iran and its proxy Hezbollah announced that any Israeli attack in Syria will be reciprocated.
Or should it use self-restraint at the price of projecting weakness?
What are the possible ways Iran can retaliate?
The first option is a direct Iranian attack on Israel which could take form in two major possible ways:
- Attack Israel with rockets, missiles or drones launched from Syria.
- Attack Israeli / Jewish targets abroad using the widespread terror infrastructure Iran has developed since 1979.
Both options are seemingly less preferable to Iran for a couple of reasons:
- Given the fact that Israel has proven the ability to quite successfully intercept incoming rockets and drones, it is questionable if Iran will choose to launch a direct attack from Syria. A failed attack would backfire on Iran, as it will diminish its constant attempts to project an image of advanced military capacities. In that context, it should be noted that today (April 17, 2018), Israel revealed the information it possesses regarding Iranian aerial presence in Syria. That is a clear signal to Iran that Israel has a very close eye on Iran’s capabilities and assets in Syria.
- A direct Iranian attack on Israel from Syria, will very likely result in a massive Israeli attack on Iranian bases in Syria. This will jeopardize the Iranian investments, achievements, and ground assets Iran has gained thus far in Syria. The severe damaged caused to Iranian and Assad assets during the recent Israeli aerial attack on February 10, 2018 is fresh in the Iranian memory.
- As the ultimatum date set by US President Trump to the EU for reevaluating the nuclear agreement signed with Iran (the JCPOA) approaches (May 12th), an Iranian direct attack or terror attacks targeting Israeli and / or Jewish targets in the world will play into the hands of the current US administration who views Iran as the major source of threat and instability. An Iranian attack leading up to that date will make it difficult for EU members such as Germany or France who resent the tough US line against Iran, and object to the demand to review the agreement, to continue their objection to the US demands to impose new, severe sanctions on Iran.
Another potential option for Iran is to react through the use of its proxies:
- Particularly its most powerful one – Hezbollah.
However, that option also is less likely to take place for a couple of reasons:
- Lebanon is bracing for national elections – scheduled for May 6, 2018. Hezbollah, labeled by the Arab Gulf States as a terror organization, and criticized by many other Arab factors – including the Lebanese – for its destructive role in the service of Iran, wishes to utilize the elections to mark substantial political achievements. Leading up to the elections Hezbollah wants to portray itself as a responsible factor who is tuned to Lebanon’s needs as Lebanon is crumbling in the face of major economic and political challenges. Thus, acting as Iran’s sub-contractor to retaliate against Israel from Lebanon seems to be an option Hezbollah and its master prefer to avoid.
- Hezbollah could launch an attack on Israel from Syria. Yet the consequences of such a move might not be very different from an attack launched form Lebanon. Israel – and possibly the US – may decide the attack provides the opportunity to massively attack – and substantially destroy – Hezbollah’s military capacities both in Syria as well as in Lebanon.
Hezbollah is stretched in Syria and is sustaining massive casualties – and its presence in Syria is not likely to come to an end in the near future.
Opening a new front with Israel, while the US has a significant military presence and assets in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea – as well as in the Arab Gulf, might cause Hezbollah – thus Iran – serious damage of significant and strategic proportions.
An indicator of the unlikelihood of an Iranian retaliation via Hezbollah may be found in announcements over the past few days by Hassan Nasrallah who said: “Israel is now on a military collision with Iran. and his Deputy, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said that “Iran will retaliate in the time and way it decides. Though Hezbollah has no information regarding the nature or characteristic of the Iranian retaliation”
- Another potential option for Iran to react is through the use of other proxies based in the Gaza Strip – Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine and / or activating terror cells Iran operates in the Palestinian territory in the West Bank.
This does not seem likely. The Palestinians, currently engaged with The March of Return Campaign, are less likely to willingly act on behalf of Iran (On that read my article The Palestinian March of Return: The Boxers Cautious Dance, April 2018)
- Another option would be to use the Iranian and Assad backed Palestinian groups in Syria or local Syrian groups, such as a Druze based force known as “Fouj Al-Joulan” (the Golan Regiment).
The downside for that, as far as Iran and Assad are concerned, is that such an attack would very likely be responded to with a massive Israeli reaction targeting Assad and Iranian assets in Syria.
Iran confronts a significant dilemma as it calculates its counter-move. The Mullah regime is a cynical, sophisticated regime that knows how to do the math.
That being said, one should remember that as part of the calculations it makes – the issues of image and deterrence are a high priority in the set of calculations the regime makes. That calculation is further boosted due to the growing challenges the Mullah Regime faces at home. (On that read my article Protests in Iran – The Mullah’s Regime Autumn ~January 2018).
As I wrote in my article The Israeli – Iranian Military Direct Collision: at The Threshold of a Critical Junction ~ February 2018, Syria became a stage for an Israeli-Iranian zero sum game. Hence, presenting growing odds for a serious military collision between the two.
Analysts raise concern that Iran will retaliate very soon – possibly on or around the day Israel marks its 70th Anniversary of Independence ~ April 19, 2018.
The likelihood of that serious scenario – which is definitely not an imaginary one – is dictated, in my assessment, to three major factors guiding the Mullah regime calculations:
- A military strike on Israel via any of the above-mentioned paths might seriously backfire on Iran – both militarily and politically.
- Russia has very likely sent Iran a message to be restrained in its moves.
- The Mullah regime is a marathon runner. It prefers to act when circumstances are comfortable. Currently, that is not the situation.
Given the different calculations, factors and reasons I have outlined above – and, at the same time, not negating the fact that revenge is very significant for the Iranians, nor ignoring the fact that Iran has showed miscalculations in the past – like sending the drone into Israeli territory in February. I currently tend to predict that Iran will refrain from attacking Israel on or around Independence Day and will wait for circumstances and timing in which it will have better odds to pay a minimal price as a result of such an attack.
In many articles I have published over the last decade I have outlined that enabling the Iranian aggressive expansion policy in the region increases the risk of a major regional war. See for example:
“Is war in the Middle East Inevitable?” (February 2012)
“Pax Amer – Iran” (March 2015)
Reading these articles reveals the chain of developments, events, process, as well as the different players who should be held accountable for the alarming threat of a major military collision in the Middle East today.
If you want to have a better understanding of the news and what really drives the unfolding events…
Read the latest book of Avi Melamed,
INSIDE THE MIDDLE EAST | ENTERING A NEW ERA, available now >>>
I can always be reached at Avi@AviMelamed.com