If Israel continues attacking Iranian military positions in Syria, Iran will likely retaliate more forcefully, U.S. intelligence chief Dan Coats has warned, igniting a full-scale war that neither Iran nor Israel wants.
However, Coats’ assessment confused cause with effect. While Israel seeks peace with the Iranian people, Iran’s Islamist regime openly calls for Israel’s destruction. The missile Iran recently fired against Israel originated from an area of Syria where Israel had been assured there were no Iranian forces present. In response, Israel struck multiple Iranian targets in Syria.
Syria has emerged as the main battleground between Israel and Iran. Iran’s hegemonic goal is to establish a permanent military corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. A key component of this strategy is a firm Iranian military presence in Syria. Tehran reportedly seeks to build a force in Syria numbering 100,000. Since this directly threatens Israel’s security, the Jewish state is equally bent on uprooting Iran from Syria.
The standoff between Iran and Israel in Syria is reminiscent of the Soviet-U.S. standoff during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Like the U.S. then, Israel cannot tolerate hostile missiles on its doorstep pointing at its cities. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two crises. While the Soviet Union was a hostile global competitor, it did not seek America’s destruction. By contrast, Iran’s Islamist regime is driven by religious zealotry — a genocidal ideology that demands the destruction of the Jewish state. The Cuban missile crisis was eventually defused after the Soviets agreed to withdraw their strategic missiles from Cuba and America withdrew its strategic missiles from Turkey and Italy.
By contrast, the Israeli-Iranian standoff is asymmetric. Iran threatens Israel’s existence on its doorstep while the Jewish state has no hostile military bases on Iran’s borders. Coupled with Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear weapons, Tehran’s growing military presence on Israel’s border constitutes an unacceptable threat to the Jewish state. Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah already has around 100,000 missiles pointed at Israel. While most of these missiles are not accurate, Iran constantly seeks to supply Hezbollah with advanced missiles that threaten Israel’s main population centers.
The Iranian regime’s aggressive policies threaten the entire Middle East and beyond. As a result, Sunni Arab states are increasingly seeking defense cooperation with Israel. Tehran already has missiles that can reach parts of Europe and seeks to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles that could eventually reach the U.S.
The latest Iranian missile was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system. However, there were many Israeli civilians at a nearby Israeli ski resort. If that Iranian missile had killed them, it would likely have triggered a full-scale war with unknown regional consequences.
Since Iran is openly threatening Israel on the Jewish state’s border, de-escalation is possible only if Tehran backs off. This will happen only if a continued Iranian military presence in Syria becomes too costly for the ayatollah regime.
Ironically, Washington and Moscow — adversaries during the Cuban missile crisis — are the only external forces that could prevent further military escalation between Israel and Iran. Any U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria leaves a potentially dangerous power vacuum that could be interpreted by Iran as a green light to do whatever it wishes in Syria. On the other hand, the U.S. is imposing an economic embargo on Iran and firmly supports Israel’s right of self-defense.
For different reasons, Russia and Iran back Syria’s Assad regime. While Moscow has vocally criticized Israeli military operations in Syria, Russia understands Israel’s security needs and seeks coordination with Jerusalem in Syria. Like the U.S. and Israel, Russia seeks stability in Syria. Moscow therefore increasingly views Iran as a troublemaker that provokes Israel. If Russia can be convinced that its strategic interests in Syria benefit from an Iranian exit, Moscow could play a crucial role in defusing the escalating conflict between Iran and Israel.
Daniel Krygier is an Israel-based fellow with the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group focused on producing content ignored by traditional media outlets.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.