Israel, Syria, Iran: Mounting Tensions and Threats

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 


n_40384_4Two top Israeli officials made particularly alarming statements this week. Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and holds foreign relations, strategic, and intelligence responsibilities, said Iran was not just looking to produce a few “bombs in the basement” but dozens of nuclear bombs each year.

Steinitz said Iran’s nuclear industry was “many times larger than that of either North Korea or Pakistan” and that Iran is not just seeking to become a nuclear state but a “nuclear superpower.”

And regarding Israel’s northern front, air force chief Tamir Eshel said war with Syria and Hizballah could be imminent. Or as he put it: “It’s not as if we can say we have two weeks to prepare [for war]. I am not sure we have two weeks to prepare.”

Eshel also said the powerful Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system was on its way to Syria despite U.S. and Israeli attempts to talk Russian president Vladimir Putin out of it.

Eshel made his statement during a week when Syria, for the first time since its civil war broke out, took credit for incidents of firing into Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.

Steinitz’s words about Iran seemed borne out by the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which says that: Iran has now added 700 high-tech centrifuges that can enrich uranium two to five times faster than its older centrifuges; has also added hundreds of the older ones to bring the total to over 13,000; and keeps developing its heavy water reactor at Arak that will be able to produce several plutonium bombs a year.

And while it is difficult, from the welter of reports and assessments, to make out just how imminent the Iranian threat is—with some claiming Iran is still avoiding crossing Netanyahu’s red line of enriching enough uranium for a bomb—an assessment last month by the U.S. intelligence community tended more to the pessimistic side.

As it stated: “Teheran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons. So, the central issue is its political will to do so.”

National Intelligence Director James Clapper said such a decision would be made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—who, it should be noted, is a deeply ideological leader who has called Israel “a cancerous tumor [that] must be uprooted from the region” and just this month predicted the collapse of the West.

The Syrian alarmism, too, seemed borne out as two top-level visitors—U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and British foreign secretary William Hague—came to Israel on Thursday to discuss the crisis. Kerry, who has appeared obsessed with the relatively minor Palestinian issue in recent months, was reportedly—along with Hague—actually much more focused on the Syrian arena.

There too assessments differ, with some in Israel claiming the last thing embattled president Bashar al-Assad needs is to open a front with Israel, while others—as the New York Times put it on Wednesday—say that for Assad “engagement with Israel could distract attention from his massacre of his own people and win him support at home and across the Arab world.”

To sum up, the situation is unstable. The fact that Putin—after delaying delivery for a couple of years—is now sending the S-300s to Syria does not indicate much concern about President Barack Obama as a strategic actor and could reflect Putin’s perception that Obama is all the more weakened by his current troubles at home.

The administration’s descent into a whirlpool of scandals could also make it more difficult for it to act against Iran—if it has ever really seriously intended to do so. Apart from being distressed and preoccupied, scandal-ridden administrations that launch military actions are automatically accused of doing so to divert attention and save themselves.

In that regard the Senate’s passing this week of a unanimous resolution, calling to support Israel if it finds itself compelled to attack Iran, may be even more timely than it means to be. Israel may have to deal with the crises on its own, and it will not live with a nuclear-superpower Iran.

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  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    David, myself and too many others are directly in the cross hairs, and surely it serves no purpose for us to bury our heads in the sand. And this is why I agreed to a no-holds barred interview regarding the region – http://www.inquisitr.com/671508/the-inquisitr-int

    Anyone who hasn't stocked up on supplies – including gas masks for their entire family – is behind the eight ball. Know this: Jerusalem is backed into a corner and the results will be catastrophic. Our forces will go for BROKE. But it didn't have to be this way….

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • Cassandra

      Adinak I certainly hope it does not get to this. Israel is always in my prayers and always will be. I think your country is strong and will win.

  • Shalom Freedman

    The situation is very worrisome. Has anyone given an assessment of how much damage the arsenals of Hizbollah and Syria could do should they surprise everyone and attack Israel first? Has anyone given a realistic assessment of how much damage they could do , should Israel preempt? Does anyone know the likely cause of a ground operation into Lebanon and parts of Syria?
    So far as I can tell the Israeli Government has a policy of not intervening in favor of one side in the war in Syria. This seems wise but it is impossible to really know what is going on, and when the situation can drastically change.
    Along with this is the question of Iran and its nuclear program. With this is the question of U.S. – Israel coordination in case of any military operation. Promises from the Congress are wonderful but it is the President who determines foreign policy.I would hope he will be true to his promises both to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and to support the security of Israel.

    • Vineet

      Isarel has no choice but to go for the jugular of Iran. If it suffers horrendous damage in the process, that's better than waiting for the mullahs to get the bomb.

  • EthanP

    Could the threat of Syrian/Hezbellah action against Israel be Iran's plan? Recent Israeli air opperations have demonstrated again and again that the Soviet/Russian air defences are ineffective. An Israeli attack against the Iranian nuclear infrastructure would likely succeed. Unless of course the IDF is fully engaged in Syria and Lebanon. Assad and Hezbellah will dance to the tune of their masters in Teheran.

  • Flowerknife_us

    Israel dealing with Iran on its own has been the plan for the last Five years.

  • Myownopininon

    "Isarel has no choice but to go for the jugular of Iran. " I TOTALY disagree with this line of thinking – its TOO LATE!, Israel, even the United States for that matter can not keep middle eastern nations in a state of chaos , or disarray forever…Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and EVERY middle eastern and north African national will ALL develop highly effective small nuclear weapons. Looking back through history the Jewish people have never tried to assimilate themselves in with the local, native populations – rather, for more than a thousand years in the Jews have consciously separated themselves from others. THIS WAS A MISTAKE!! Equally Israel is not content with living peacefully, or on equal terms with its middle eastern neighbors – the jews..for too long have learnt to not trust anyone. Learning NOT to trust others was a MISTAKE as well. But we jews are too bull headed and too, too pessimistic. 20 years from now – when 40% or the population is refusing to pay taxes, and more rational Israelis have either left Israel, or are aging…we will be left at the mercy of a young Iran, Pakistan and North Africa – who`s economy will be outstripping our own. Trust, NOT CONTROL is the only way to ensure a peaceful future for Israel.

  • elishawah

    for the head of Syria is damascus,and the head of Damascus is rezin; and within three score and five years shall Ephraim be broken that it be not a people.and the head of Ephraim is samaria and the head of samaria is remaliah's son,sivan the fifth locked in this prophecy.therefore o'israel prepare thyself for the time of the heathen.for the lord shall hiss for the fly that's in the rivers of Egypt and hiss for the bee out of land of Lebanon.and after the scourge shall the fiery flying serpent show up as the man of peace.

    • Mr. Polly

      Huh?

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  • jzsnaake

    Can anyone explain to me how Syria can even afford to pay for the new weapons? Thanks.

  • ezekialsright

    It is written in the Bible, the finest and truest chronicle of history and the ONLY true Book of prophesy. Israel shall be the victor in any future war, as it will probably be the last war before armageddon. No one can hope to defeat a nation who is the apple of God's eyes.