INTO THE FRAY: But for the grace of God- Iran in Syria & the lessons for Israel.


Only by resisting territorial concessions on the Golan, Israel prevented deployment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the fringes of the Galilee; only by resisting territorial concessions in the “West Bank” can Israel prevent them from deploying on the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv.

Israel has a strategic interest in disassociating Syria from the extremist axis that Iran is leading. Syria is not lost, Assad is western educated and is not a religious man. He can still join a moderate grouping. –  Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff of IDF, Nov 13, 2009.

…we should not belittle the signals of peace coming from Syria. – Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, Nov 13, 2009.

Syria is the key to regional change for us. If I was prime minister, I would pin all my hopes on Syria.” – The late Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, former Israeli Defense Minister (2001-2002), May 23, 2010.

Just how appallingly wrong these assessments by the most senior echelons of the Israeli security establishment proved to be was driven home by a recent BBC report, indicating that the Iranian military is engaged in the construction of what appears to be a permanent military base in Syria. But more on these—and other—disturbing lapses in judgment a little later.

Permanent Iranian presence in Syria?

Based on satellite images commissioned by the BBC, the report suggests extensive ongoing construction between January and October this year, just outside a site used by the Syrian army near the town of El-Kiswah, 14 km (8 miles) south of Damascus.

It comes on the heels of evermore disturbing accounts of the increasingly pervasive presence of Iranian forces throughout Syria – with Russian endorsement and US acquiescence – together with growing concern that Tehran will soon attempt to deploy both air and naval forces, including submarines and set up weapons production plants to supply its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

In the discussion of the ramifications of these revelations, attention appeared to focus mainly on two cardinal issues: (a) The significance for the completion of the “Shi’ite arc of influence”, stretching from east of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and the creation of a land-based logistical supply line from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon; and (b) the stern warnings issued by Israel that it would not permit an Iranian takeover of Syria, hinting that it would be prepared to use military force to prevent this.

However, there is another vital element germane to the expanding Iranian military presence in Syria—and one that has received remarkably little media attention. It is, however, one whose relevance Israel will ignore at its peril.

Inconvenient but incontrovertible fact

After all, as ominous as the current Iranian military deployment in Syria is, it might well have been far more menacing. Indeed, the fact that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is not perched on the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is solely because Israel did not fall prey to the seductive temptation of the land-for-peace formula, as urged by many, in both the international community and in its own security establishment (see introductory excerpts)—and did not cede the strategic plateau that commands the approaches to the entire north of the country.

One can only shudder with dread at the thought of the perilous predicament the country would be in, had it heeded the call from the allegedly “enlightened and progressive”  voices, who – up until the gory events of the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011—hailed the British trained doctor, Bashar al-Assad, as a moderate reformer, with whom a durable peace deal could be cut – f only an intransigent Israel would yield the Golan to his regime.

Indeed, it is an inconvenient—albeit incontrovertible—fact that every time Israel has relinquished/abandoned territory, to Arab control, that territory has – usually sooner rather than later – become a platform from which to launch lethal attacks against Israel – almost immediately in Gaza; within months in Judea-Samaria; within years in south Lebanon and after several decades in Sinai, now descending into the depravity and brutality of a Jihadi-controlled no-man’s land—with no good options on the horizon.

This is something Israeli policy makers dare not disregard. For as dangerous and detrimental as the outcomes of previous withdrawals proved to be, they are likely to pale into insignificance compared to consequences of territorial concession in Judea-Samara (a.k.a. the “West Bank”).

Compounding the gravity

Indeed, even the Golan, with all its vital strategic significance, cannot match the importance of the highlands of Judea-Samaria, commanding Israel’s urban megalopolis in the coastal plain. As I have pointed out elsewhere, any forces deployed on these highlands command all of the following: major airfields (civilian and military) including the country’s only international airport; major sea ports and naval bases; vital infrastructure installations (power transmission, water systems, and communication networks); main land transport routes (road and rail); principal power plants; the national parliament and most government ministries; crucial centers of civilian administration and military command; and 80% of the civilian population and the commercial activity in the country.

Significantly, all of these strategic objectives will be within easy range of weapons being used today against Israel from territories previously relinquished to Arab control.

Compounding the gravity of any threat entailed in Israel yielding sizeable portions of Judea-Samaria to the Palestinian-Arabs are reports of renewed ties between Iran and Hamas, purported to be “stronger than ever.”

An Iranian proxy over-looking Tel Aviv?

Addressing journalists in Gaza last August, Hamas leader, Yehiyeh Sinwar declared that the terror group had restored relations with Iran after a five-year rift, due to Hamas’s refusal to support Assad, and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities against Israel. According to Sinwar, “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent”, adding that Iran is “the largest backer financially and militarily” of the organization’s military wing.

Clearly, were Israel to withdraw from Judea-Samaria, there is little that it could do to curtail the spread of Iranian influence. Indeed, without the IDF to prop up the corrupt kleptocracy of Fatah, it is more than likely that Hamas, increasingly an Iranian proxy in the mold of Hezbollah—despite being on opposite sides of the Sunni-Shia divide—could mount an effective challenge for power. This could be done either via the ballot (a recent Palestinian poll shows that Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would trounce Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas) or by the bullet—as it did in in Gaza in 2007, and could well do again in Judea-Samaria, especially if bolstered by Iranian backing

Accordingly, just as it was only Israel’s resistance to territorial concession on the Golan that prevented the deployment of Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the fringes of the Galilee, so only by resisting territorial concessions in the “West Bank” can Israel prevent Iranian Revolutionary Guards (or any other Jihadi elements) from deploying on the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv.

Assessing new “peace initiatives”: Rank is no recommendation

These are the grim realities that any future “peace initiative” must take into consideration.

This caveat takes on special significance in light of rumors that a new “peace” initiative is currently brewing within the Trump administration, seemingly enamored with the allure of cutting “the ultimate deal”.

In this regard, Israel must internalize the lessons of the past and robustly resist pressures to relinquish further territory to Arab control. In particular, it must be wary of counsel from individuals and organizations, who have demonstrated, consistently and conclusively that—no matter what their past experience and seniority—their judgement cannot be trusted (see introductory excerpts). After all, as the past clearly indicates, when assessing such initiatives, rank is rarely any recommendation.

Indeed, not only have the “top brass” of Israel’s security establishment been hopelessly and hazardously wrong in appraising Assad’s role as a peace partner, they have been equally wrong in predicting his imminent fall – see for example here,  here, here, here, here and here.

Israel can ill-afford such lapses in judgement when it comes to making fateful decisions regarding concessions in Judea-Samaria that would critically imperil the vast majority of the nation’s population.

With this in mind, it cannot for a moment forget what–but for the grace of God—our fate in the Golan would have been.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies


November 24, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Leave a Reply

5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. I am grateful to Dr. Sherman that he has moved away from pushing his completely unworkable “humanitarian solution” idea fixe for at least this one column, and instead focuses on amore relevant and timely issues. On all issues except for his unworkable idea fixe, has much to say that is wise and shrewd. I wish he would return to these topics, which he has very productively addressed in the past, such as Israel’s “backseat driver,” government, the unjust imprisonment of alleged or purported Jewish terrorists with trial or a presumption of innocence, the ill-treatment and unjust trials of patriotic Israeli soldiers who took action to protect their fellow soldiers or Jewish civilians from Arab terrorists, the government’s automatic recognition of Arab land claims in the “territories,” without demanding proof of title in a court of law; its refusal to recognize any Jewish land claims at all, or to allow Jews to own land in the “territories;” its refusal to allow Jews to examine the land registers of title to the land, while allowing Arabs free access to the records;, and many similar outrages that it would be possible to mobilize Israeli public opinion now to bring an end to. On the other hand, mobilizing Israeli public opinionnow to compel the government to attempt a permanent over-all “solution” to Israel’s security and demographic problems is impossible, because Israelis are pragmatists who know that at present Israel does not have the power to implement such a comprehensive solution, and won’t for some time to come. On the other hand, public opinion certainly can be mobilized now to demand changes in Israel’s misguided policies that the people do have the power to change, such as those I have enumerated.

  2. …but the show’s not over, until the fat lady sings…

    A smug statement because what Sherman is writing about is whether the fat lady is going to sing at all, and his severe warnings that she Israel is not.

    You are smug in your attitudes and I cannot see any effort to propose any strategy, or programme. And if you cannot do that you really should keep quiet.

    The fact is that Obama and Bush allowed Iran to go on a winning role. This began in a big way in the Clinton war on the Serbs which was supported on this site by Yamit and others.

    Sherman makes the case as to why action needs to be taken on the Israel versus Palestinian issue and Israel must solve this issue by getting rid of all Muslims from its country, by one way or the other, just as Burma must get rid of the Muslims called Rohingas. Sherman does not even mention them!!! Yet totally relevant to this discussion. I suppose he is waiting for Yamit to start slagging off the Burmese too.

    Nor does Sherman deal with Israel aiding the ISIS in the war on Assad.

    What was Assad supposed to do roll over and be murdered in a ditch by Jihad and America like Gadhafi was, is the question Sherman does not even pose, while Israel was aiding ISIS?

    Sherman makes great and relevant points that call for action but it is very noticeable that he does not deal with the war on Saddam, on Gadhafi and on Assad by Imperialism.

  3. @ Edgar G.:
    Hi, Edgar.

    “My own opinion, for what it’s worth…(don’t answer that, Michael)”

    Edgar, I treasure your opinions, and much more. We disagree on some thing. What of it? You’re Jewish. Doesn’t that come with the territory? 🙂

    The Jewish people haven’t completely controlled their own affairs, since the days of Jacob’s grandfather (unlike many potential readers, I am happily confident you know who that was, and what I am talking about). When Isaac sojourned in Philistia, he was the landless nomad, but God was with him and he prospered. The Philistines were settled people, who owned the land where he lived. These were the people who had stopped up the wells dug by Isaac’s father, Avraham. When Isaac re-dug the wells, the Philistines pursued him and drove him away from them; but God continued to bless the landless Isaac. At length, the Philistines became afraid of Isaac’s power, and they made a treaty with him.

    Why did God allow this to happen? Why had God commanded Avraham to leave a comfortable, settled life in southern Turkey to become a nomad? Why did Jacob have to flee for his life from his brother and go back to Turkey — this time as a virtual serf to his uncle? Why did Avraham, Isaac AND Jacob and his children to many generations have to live as strangers in Egypt? Why the exile to Old Babylon, 2500 years ago; to New Babylon (Rome), some 500-600 years later? Why the wanderings from England to France, from France to Spain, from Spain to Portugal, on and on?

    Why, since God has restored them to their proper estate in Israel, have they never been at rest, but are continually beset by enemies — enemies from every nation (i. e. “goy”) in the world? Why can’t they be secure with the Egyptians and Jordanians, the Lebanese and Syrians (under Assad or otherwise?).

    It’s because God WANTED them to be outsiders, to experience firsthand what it feels like…

    …because GOD is an outsider in His own creation — treated like a stranger; treated like someone who DOESN’T EXIST — and the Jews are His chosen people.

    Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai; and blessed are His people, whom He has chosen. The Philistines (the English form is “Palestinians”), the Syrians, the Iranians, the Russians, the Americans: These are the ones in power in the world, who continually accuse and attack Israel, while the Jews continue to fight for their lives. That will end, soon, at a time when God Himself is revealed to be the Master of the Universe.

    Until that happens, the Russians seem to be pulling the strings in Syria, closely linked to the Turks and Iranians:

    …but the show’s not over, until the fat lady sings…

  4. Martin is letting the mishugas of the “cutting the ultimate deal” syndrome, become a syndrome in his mind. Trump has boosted his talents as a deal maker to help his campaigns and etc, but is NO FOOL. His has many times stated and shown, that he will NOT force Israel into anything that Israel is unwilling to do. Although who knows the mind of a statesman who moves in unexpected directions.

    My own opinion, for what it’s worth…(don’t answer that, Michael) is that Israel, like always since 1973, has waited too long already. Israel should “gird it’s loins” and send out a strong flight of bombers to flatten the incomplete Iranian permanent base, before they surround it with too-dangerous anti-air weaponry. It will be the best warning to the Iranians, that Israel is backing it’s vows not to allow Syria to be a permanent stop-off for Iran, and at the same time, not sufficient to be regarded a declaration of war.

    If not, Iran will just complete the complex, making it impossible to destroy, and we will awaken to a NEW, dangerous and massively destructive reality.