Dec. 21, 2017
The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria – Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- In Israel, much attention has centered on Iranian plans for the establishment of a sphere of direct influence stretching from its borders to the Mediterranean, and the consolidation of a military front against Israel in Syria and Lebanon.
- Iran strives to build and permanently deploy in Syria a sizable proxy army. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force built and increasingly leaned on semiregular militia forces including 100,000 Syrians in the locally based National Defense Forces, fashioned after the Iranian paramilitary Basij forces.
- No less important are the non-Syrian militias of 20,000-25,000 Shia fighters belonging to Lebanese Hizbullah, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces elements, the Afghani Fatemiyoun brigade, and the Pakistani Zainabiyoun brigade – all commanded by an Iranian contingent of 1,000-2,000 military personnel.
- Iran is now working to establish a “Syrian Hizbullah,” comprising tens of thousands of mostly Shia and Alawite members.
- Israel views Iran’s moves in Syria as a major long-term strategic threat. If realized, they would not only turn Syria into an Iranian protectorate, but also entrench Iran – a regime sworn to Israel’s destruction – in a neighboring country, thereby enabling it to transform Syria into a terrorist and military front against Israel.
- In a possible future military confrontation in its north, Israel will face not only an active Lebanese front but a Syrian one as well, where Israel expects to encounter battle-hardened Hizbullah and other “Shia legions,” along with a rehabilitated Syrian army. These forces will all rely on the Iranian military presence, military infrastructure, and a substantial rocket arsenal, adding to Hizbullah’s current arsenal of 120,000 rockets in Lebanon.
- Countering Iranian plans in Syria would be much better served if Israel’s deterrent actions fit within a broader, proactive U.S. strategy to block Iran in the region, rather than Israel shouldering most of the burden alone.
The writer, a Fellow of The Washington Institute, is a former chief of staff to four Israeli ministers of defense.