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Inside Israel: A Reprieve, Not a Cease-Fire, on the Northern Front

Eliezer Shulman

As Iran’s missile threat grows, IDF drills for three-front war

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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O ver a month has passed since the February 10 confrontation over the skies of Syria and Israel, when Israel downed an Iranian drone that had infiltrated its territory, and then struck Iranian and Syrian targets, losing one of its F-16s to Syrian anti-aircraft in the process. What’s unusual is that over the course of this 30-day period, unlike the past five years, Syria hasn’t reported even one Israeli strike against weapons convoys, missile warehouses, or military bases.

By all estimates, the time-out is only temporary. Nothing has changed on the northern front, and we can safely assume that there will be further conflict in the future. The clear edge enjoyed by the pro-Assad forces in the Syrian civil war has whetted their appetites for a reward in exchange for helping Assad survive, when everyone assumed he was doomed.

A military intelligence report prepared for the Israeli government described Israel and Iran as on a collision course. On one side we have Iran, which is determined to establish a military presence in Syria, and on the other, Israel, which is just as determined to blunt those efforts. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the AIPAC Policy Conference earlier this month, “We must stop Iran and we will stop Iran!”

So, why didn’t the events last month deteriorate into war? For the simple reason that both Israel and Iran are not interested in an escalation. Observing Iranian strategy in recent years, there is the impression that Iran’s leaders have halted their advances altogether in the face of Israeli threats and air strikes that have been attributed to the Israel Air Force.

As for Israel, although the declared aim is to thwart Iran’s plans to embed itself in Syria and Lebanon, it seems that neither Netanyahu, nor Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, nor the IDF brass want a wider conflict. Most of Israel’s efforts to thwart Iran have been covert, and Israel is happy to keep it that way.

There is one element that both Israel and Iran cannot ignore: Russia. Not only has Moscow become the orchestrator behind the Syrian civil war, it is the only superpower that remains in touch with all the relevant parties. The last thing Russian president Vladimir Putin needs is for the Iranian-Israeli war in the north to endanger his No. 1 strategic achievement in the area: rescuing the Assad regime. It seems that by the end of the day on February 10, both Jerusalem and Tehran got the message — and acted accordingly.

How to Counter Iran

“It’s clear that in the present state of affairs, a war between Iran and Israel is inevitable,” says Amos Yadlin, the executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “The question is if it will happen very soon or just soon.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 702)

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