TEL AVIV — As Israelis here gear up to celebrate the Jewish state’s 70th anniversary next week, the prospects for an Israel-Iran proxy confrontation in the near future seem significant.
Airstrikes on the T-4 airbase in central Syria on Monday have been widely attributed to Israel, with U.S. officials confirming the Jewish state carried out the hits and informed Washington in advance. Israel has a longstanding policy of refusing to comment on alleged military actions beyond the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Still, Israel’s Foreign Ministry immediately accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of committing “crimes against humanity” with a deadly chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Douma over the weekend.
The decision to target the T-4 base is instructive. Reports in Israel revealed the establishment housed an Iran-run drone base. Underscoring the sensitivities of the players involved, the Washington Post, citing Iran’s Fars News Agency, reported that aside from Iranians, the T-4 base also houses Russians and members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.
This week’s raid apparently marks the second time Israeli jets bombed T-4. In February, following strategic victories over the Islamic State and Turkey-backed rebels inside Syria, Iran was brazen enough to send an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into Israeli territory before it was quickly shot down by the Israeli military. Aviation analysts described the Iranian drone as a new stealth model similar in design to the American RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone that Iran claimed to have shot down and seized in December 2011. It’s likely the Iranians were testing the model’s ability to penetrate Israeli airspace undetected, making Israel’s discovery of the UAV a remarkable display of regional military superiority.
The latest strikes resulted in Iranian casualties, with Iran’s state-run media confirming that four Iranian “military advisers” were killed in the bombing raid. While Iran largely attempts to keep its operations in Syria low key, the public display this week may prompt Tehran to seek retaliation against Israel.
Iran and Russia are allies of Assad, with Iran evidencing some control over Syrian military installations. Russia, the Iranian military and Hezbollah members have been aiding Assad’s fight against the rebels in various capacities.
Seeking to expand its influence, Russia involved itself in Syria during that country’s civil war as the U.S. under Barack Obama failed to respond to Moscow’s meddling. Tellingly, Kremlin officials protested that they were not forewarned about this week’s strikes.
Iran is entrenched in Syria in a clear campaign aimed at extending its fundamentalist tentacles to Israel’s north and exerting hegemony across the region while ensuring an open corridor to Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon.
Now Russia finds itself in the crosshairs of a possible showdown between the U.S. and Israel on the one hand and the Iranian axis on the other. Yesterday, President Trump took to Twitter to warn Russia that missiles in Syria “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’”
Writing at Politico, Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and current senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted:
Putin is now sitting on a tinderbox. The ISIS threat may be contained. But a showdown is looming between Israel and Iran on Russia-controlled terrain. With Iran’s long record of sponsoring terrorist groups that target Israel, coupled with regular calls for destruction of the state of Israel, this has been a long time coming. Iran’s Syrian and Lebanese proxies, who are armed to the teeth with up to 250,000 rockets, are preparing to battle the most advanced military in the Middle East. It promises to be the worst war the region has seen in decades.
While the crisis may not escalate to an all-out war, Iran will want to secure its investment in Assad by attempting to make Israel pay a price for trying to check Tehran’s involvement in Syria. “The crimes will not remain unanswered,” warned Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Iran could activate Hezbollah to target Israel, but that would risk massive Israeli retaliation and the ensuing clash would hamper Hezbollah’s continued ability to fight the anti-Assad rebels. In an all-out war, Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets that could devastate Israeli civilian population zones.
Besides Hezbollah, Iran has other Shiite proxies in Syria and Lebanon that could be put into action against the Israeli Golan Heights.
Tehran could use its terror proxies overseas to carry out an attack that would not directly bear Iranian fingerprints.
It could also use Palestinian Islamic Jihad to draw Israel into a confrontation in the Gaza Strip or West Bank. And Iran can increase financing to Hamas and ride the current wave of violent riots at the Israel-Gaza border to further distract the Israeli military in the south.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.