The Islamic Republic of Iran is playing with fire. To distract from its maneuvers in Syria, where along with its proxies - including the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as Iraqi, Afghan and Yemeni Shiite militias it controls - Iran in gunning for the Israeli border in the Quneitra province of southwestern Syria. Tehran is directing Hamas, the Islamic terror group who they fund and arm, to provoke Israel by attacking the Israeli communities around Gaza. In recent weeks, Hamas launched incendiary kites across the Gaza border that scorched a whopping 8,000 acres of farms and nature reserves causing an "ecological disaster" in Israel. In addition, over 200 rockets have been fired by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists into southern Israel in order to kill Israelis.
Last week, Hamas and PIJ agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel. These terror groups, however, continued to hammer away at Israeli civilians with more death-kites and rockets. This violation of a ceasefire undermined the understanding reached between Israel and Hamas following the “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. Israel’s response to these provocations has been rather mild hitherto, mainly firing on the location where the incendiary kites and rockets are being launched. Israel is limiting its application of force to, perhaps, prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza -- one entirely of Hamas' own making. The real victims in this latest batch of attacks are the Israeli residents of southern Israel, who have endured three and a half months of terror and severe economic damages.
Visiting a kindergarten in Sderot (close to the Gaza border) last Monday (July 16, 2018), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There is no such thing as a cease-fire that does not include the flaming kites and balloons.” He added, “I have ordered the military to stop the terror of incendiary kites and balloons.”
Last year, the new leader of Hamas Yahya Sinwar, told reporters that, “Relations with Iran are excellent, and admitted that, "Iran is the largest supporter of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades with money and arms.” Sinwar also revealed this about the Iran-Hamas relationship: “The relationship today is developing and returning to what it was in the old days…this will be reflected in the assistance against Israel, and in the Hamas agenda to achieve the liberation.” In 2012, the Sunni radical Islamist Hamas broke with radical Islamist Shiite Iran over the butchery of hundreds of thousands of Sunni-Muslims by the Bashar Assad Alawite (breakaway Shiite sect) dictatorships and its Iranian allies, including the Shiite Hezbollah (Iran’s proxy).
According to Ahmad Majidyar, a Fellow at the Middle East Institute, Iranian leaders have been trying to exploit Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to further strengthen Tehran’s ties with the Palestinian militant groups. Soon after Trump’s announcement, both President Hassan Rouhani and Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani called leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to pledge Iran’s “all-out support” for their struggle against Israel. The Iranian media reported that Rouhani called Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ senior political leader, and told him, “We are confident that a new intifada will continue its path to attain the rights of the Palestinian nation.” Meanwhile, Soleimani told the leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades that other groups within the “resistance axis in the region” are also ready to defend the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Israel is rightfully concerned about Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, simultaneously creating a two-front attack against it -or possibly even three - with Hamas and PIJ in the south or the Gaza Strip, Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias at the Golan Heights, and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
In early July of this year, Netanyahu remarked that Israel had “A clear policy that we do not intervene, and we have not intervened in Syria. This has not changed. What has troubled us is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Hezbollah, and this has not changed. The heart of the matter is preserving our freedom of action against anyone who acts against us. Second, the removal of the Iranians from Syrian territory.” Israel demands that Syrian regime forces stay away from the demilitarized buffer zone along the 1974 (post Yom Kippur War) ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
National Security Advisor John Bolton recently laid out the Trump administration's policy on Iranian meddling: “The president has made it clear that we are in Syria until the ISIS territorial caliphate is removed and as long as the in Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East.”
At the Summit between Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki, Putin endorsed his understanding with Netanyahu regarding keeping away Syrian forces from the demilitarized buffer zone. Putin said that “After the definitive defeat of the terrorists in the southwest of Syria, the situation on the Golan Heights must be brought into full compliance with the 1974 disengagement agreement.” Russia has looked the other way, as Israeli jets struck Iranian targets in Syria despite Russia’s advanced air-defense systems it has deployed in Syria. But, President Trump said that he and Putin share a commitment to Israel’s security.
With the Assad regime consolidating its control over most of Syria’s cities, Iran is seeking to change the situation vis-à-vis Israel into a more confrontational posture. Earlier this year, Iran flew a drone into Israeli airspace; Israel shot down the drone and responded to the provocation by bombing multiple Iranian targets deep inside Syria. Putin then rebuked Iran’s provocations.
Although also armed and funded by Tehran’s mullahs, Hezbollah is not eager to take on Israel, considering the losses the terrorist group incurred in the 2006 Second Lebanon War- a war that Lebanon as a state also suffered. Should Hezbollah initiate another war on its own or through orders from Tehran, Lebanon’s rebuilt infrastructure might endure irreparable damage. Hezbollah would be blamed by all political factions and would lose its current position of power in Lebanon. Iran likewise will see its influence collapse in the land of the Cedars.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been using Hezbollah as its primary instrument to advance the Islamic Republic’s strategic ambitions in the Levant. Hezbollah has become Iran’s strongest pawn against Israel. Iran’s payoff in Syria - if allowed to stand - is to establish a land bridge from Iran through the Shiite majority Iraq, Syria, and into Mediterranean Lebanon, to confront Israel with advanced arms.
Hamas and PIJ share with Iran the same goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state. Both Hamas and PIJ are offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood. Last May, in response to President Trump, abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and tightening of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Iran launched 32 rockets from Syria toward the “little Satan” Israel in the Golan Heights, thus expressing its tantrum against the “big Satan” - the U.S. In the same month, it instructed the PIJ, its proxy in Gaza to launch 200 mortar shells into southern Israel.
Iran is clearly tempting providence and its attacks through proxies might inflame the region. Israel has the will and the means to fight back, but this time the U.S. administration might not hold Israel back.