image Photo: Reuters

Escalation with Iran and its satellites is not an empty threat

If it weren’t for the Iranian regime’s distress, it might decide to tread water until US President Trump was out of office. But its resources are limited, and the possibility that the ayatollahs might attack Israel out of desperation is very real.

By Colonel (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, expert on Israel’s foreign relations, and on the Middle East and  former deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

In an age of political polarization, and amid efforts to form a new government, it would be easy to wave off warnings about the growing threat posed by Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and even Yemen as manipulative, but they are not. The warnings are appropriate, no matter what their political ramifications are, and the need for national unity in the face of the challenges we are about to face is urgent, even if we still aren’t sure how that will translate to practical steps.

The leadership of the Islamist regime in Tehran – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his minions in the military establishment and the Revolutionary Guards, such as Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani – has good reasons to pursue escalation, both throughout the region as a whole and against Israel in particular.

The core issue is the growing distress the regime is facing as a result of increased American sanctions, which have almost entirely shut down its oil exports and caused Iran’s GNP to slide, along with the nation’s revenues. If it weren’t for this distress, it’s possible (or so plenty of pundits thought until a few months ago) that Iran would opt to tread water until the crisis – and US President Donald Trump’s time in office – were things of the past. The fact that it opted for another path, one that is violent and replete with risk, indicates that its leaders have concluded that Iran’s resources won’t last until January 2025, or even January 2021, and therefore it must shake up the entire region and try to force the US to negotiate under threats of further escalation.

This has led to a wave of provocations that have rocked the region – from using drones to try and light up the Golan Heights front to an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (an Iranian satellite) firing rockets at Israel from Gaza to attacks on American sites in Iraq to shooting down an American drone to targeting vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and – the cherry on the cake – the attack (which all western intelligence officials attribute to the IRGC) on Saudi oil facilities.

In these circumstances, the possibility of another round of escalation, whether direct – a Revolutionary Guards action against Israeli targets in Israel or abroad – or in the form of a proxy such as Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, or the Houthis in Yemen, is very real indeed. It demands the utmost level of ready intelligence as well as the ability to deter such an action, or thwart it and retaliate. It also requires fitting diplomatic preparations as well as political unity at home.

Iran might not need to set up missiles in Yemen – it is much closer to Israel’s borders, but its tendency to use proxies to wage its wars could, at least in theory, lead it to use the Houthis against us just like Iran used them to attack other targets (including civil air fields) in the heart of Saudi Arabia.

There is a reason why Israel’s intelligence apparatus, the IDF, and its consulates and embassies abroad are on alert.

Published by The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security: