As we have frequently pointed out, Israel is trying to conflate ISIS with Iran. As Netanyahu said last month, Iran and ISIS are two branches of “militant Islamic terrorism.” After Paris, he said, “The time has come for countries to condemn terrorism against us to the same degree that they condemn terrorism everywhere else in the world.” The leading Israel lobby group AIPAC has had more to say about Iran than ISIS since Paris; and Hillary Clinton has echoed the theme by saying that “we cannot view ISIS and Iran as separate challenges.”
In September I laid out a comprehensive plan to counter Iranian influence across the region and its support for terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Meantime, the neoconservative presidential candidate Marco Rubio pushed legislation targeting Hezbollah.
Israel isn’t that worried about ISIS. It’s far from the Israeli border and it has limited military capability. Israel’s real concern is a regional power struggle, in which Iran has more influence than Israel due to Russia’s support for the Assad government in Syria and for Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border.
That analysis was published a month ago by the semi-official Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, and co-authored by Amos Yadlin, a longtime military leader in the Israeli government.
Yadlin and coauthor Carmit Valensi said ISIS is far away and not a direct military strategic threat:
Analysis of the threats against Israel reveals that the Islamic State – currently far from Israel’s borders and with limited military capabilities – does not represent a direct military strategic threat at this time. By contrast, Hizbollah – armed with advanced operational capabilities and long range missiles and rockets that reach the entirety of Israel – can be strengthened by the Russian move, should Russian arms trickle into its arsenals or be intentionally supplied to the organization.
Russia’s support for Syria’s embattled president Basher al-Assad has upped the ante. The real issue is the power of Tehran, its “radical axis”.
As for Iran and Assad, Russian involvement underscores (again) the need to examine the issue at the systemic level rather than at the level of individual actors. The system – the radical axis – includes Iran, Syria, and Hizbollah, with Russia, at least for now, seen as sponsor. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has stressed the stability of the Assad regime as a condition for the survival of the radical axis. Indeed, Iran is making supreme efforts to preserve Assad’s regime on the understanding that Syria is critical in promoting its agenda vis-à-vis the Sunni Arab world and Israel, and out of concern that Assad’s ouster will dramatically damage the Shiite axis, particularly Hizbollah…
The members of the radical axis and Russia share intelligence and a systemic rationale, providing a foundation for coordination between the Russian aerial force and Iran-Syria-Hizbollah ground forces. If one of the three scenarios described above with Assad still in control plays out, Israel will find itself in an inferior strategic position because Russia’s involvement is liable to provide a seal of approval for Iranian activity in Syria in years to come, as well as for Hizbollah forces armed with the best of Russia’s weapons on Syrian soil. Tehran’s drive for regional hegemony is a threat to Israel….
Here’s how Israel can play the ISIS crisis to build its coalition of allies.
The new energy Russia is injecting into the crisis creates two opportunities for Israel. One lies in strengthening an alliance with the Sunni nations in the region, first and foremost Saudi Arabia and Turkey, under the leadership of the United States. The anger and frustration experienced by these states given Russia’s unilateral move could therefore tag Israel as a strategic asset that can serve as a partner in a system to dramatically weaken the threat of the radical axis from the north. Two, in case of failure in moving the “Western” coalition into concurrent action against Assad and ISIS, Israel should strive to realize the fourth option – an Assad-free Syria – as an arrangement reached in partnership with Russia.
And in any case the target is now Assad.
In any case, Israel must gear up for active efforts to topple Assad, based on the understanding that beyond the moral imperative, Assad’s ouster will lead to a strategic loss for Iran and Hizbollah in the bleeding Syrian state.
Scott McConnell at the American Conservative reminds us that Israel supporters pushed for the Iraq war after the last big terrorist attack in the west, and are still pushing for an Iran war this go around:
During the lengthy negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, the neoconservatives and Israel spared no effort to depict Iran, run by Shi’ite Muslims, as the primary enemy of the West. Even after the ratification of the deal, Israeli analysts have stressed this point: this recent analysis [which I’ve quoted from above], promoted in the important neoconservative webzine Mosaic, makes clear that Israel sees the Iran allied Lebanese group Hezbollah and the Assad government as a far greater worry than ISIS….
Israel’s lurid exaggeration of the Iranian threat is well understood in the United States, and Hezbollah would actually not exist absent Israel’s repeated invasions of Lebanon. Basically, Netanyahu would prefer that the United States and its allies fight Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and Assad rather than the terrorists trying to lay waste to the capitals of the West.