In the United States, discussions of Iran have for the last few years been mostly about the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] — the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama. In the Middle East, things are different.
Such developments would be unacceptable to Israel, and it will convey this message to Russia and to the United States. Russia’s defense minister will soon visit Israel, after which Israel’s defense minister will visit Washington. Previous Israeli efforts to get Putin to stop Iran (during Netanyahu’s four visits to Moscow in the last year) have failed, which suggests that Israel will need to do so itself, alone — unless the new Iran policy being debated inside the Trump administration leads the United States to seek ways to stop the steady expansion of Iran’s military presence and influence in the Middle East.
That remains to be seen. Rumors suggest that the Trump administration may label the IRGC a terrorist group, which could open the door to using counter-terrorism authorities to stop its expansion. Whatever the debate over the JCPOA, there may well be a broader consensus in the administration that Iran’s growing military role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the region must be countered.
Whatever the American conclusion, if Iran does indeed plan to establish a large and permanent military footprint in Syria — complete with permanent naval and air bases and a major ground force — Israel will have fateful decisions to make. Such an Iranian presence on the Mediterranean and on Israel’s border would change the military balance in the region and fundamentally change Israel’s security situation. And under the JCPOA as agreed by Obama, remember, limits on Iran’s nuclear program begin to end in only 8 years, Iran may now perfect its ICBM program, and there are no inspections of military sites where further nuclear weapons research may be underway. As Sen. Tom Cotton said recently, “If Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today, it would be the first time in a generation.” Israel could be a decade away from a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and has bases in Syria — and could logically therefore even place nuclear weapons in Syria, just miles from Israel’s border.
Fishman, the dean of Israel’s military correspondents, writes that “If the Israeli diplomatic move fails to bear fruit, we [Israel] are headed toward a conflict with the Iranians.” That conclusion, and the Iranian moves that make it a growing possibility, should be on the minds of Trump administration officials as they contemplate a new policy toward Iran’s ceaseless drive for power in the Middle East.
[ Elliott Abrams | Published: October 9, 2017 ]
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