Iran issued a fiery warning to Israel on Monday threatening to obliterate Tel Aviv if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed through on his recent promise to defend his country from the military and nuclear threat that is emanating from the rogue regime.
The two countries traded harsh words during the Munich Security Conference that took place this past weekend.
Netanyahu brandished a piece of an Iranian drone after its incursion into Israeli airspace earlier this month and said: “Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck. We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.”
Netanyahu singled out Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in his speech at the security conference.
“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!” proclaimed Netanyahu to the audience, which included Zarif.
“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee,” said Mohsen Rezaie, Iran’s expediency council secretary, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
With tensions increasing in the Middle East over Iran’s role in Syria and Yemen and as President Trump presses for a more aggressive posture on Tehran, Israel is seeking wider support to contain its regional nemesis.
Iran launched a drone into Israeli airspace from Syria on Feb. 10, shocking Israel into retaliatory action that could have forced Iran back to its previous proxy tactics against Israel for the time being, but setting the stage for future incidents.
Israel responded by bombing 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in which Syrian anti-aircraft shot down an Israeli F-16 jet. Despite Netanyahu’s tough stance, it remains unclear if Iran’s intrusion was meant to attack or to test Israel’s defenses.
According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute(MEMRI) authored by Ayelet Savyon and U. Kafash, Iran changed its strategy to act directly against Israel instead of using proxies, but quickly changed it back because of Israel’s harsh retaliatory air-attack.
The report argued that the drone incursion into Israel could also have been to divert their public’s attention to Israel in order to distract from domestic protests.
Savyon, the head of MEMRI’s Iran desk and one of the authors of the report, told JNS that Iran’s restraint to Israel’s counterattack on Syria can be attributed to two possible explanations.
First, it could be that Iran was “deterred by Israel’s show of force and readiness for war with them,” or second, “the Russians calmed them down.”
Interestingly, according to the report, Iran quickly retreated from sending the drone into Israel as regime spokesmen denied Iranian involvement in the incident and even the existence of the drone at all.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Feb. 10: “The claim about an Iranian drone that flew [into Israel] and about Iran’s involvement in the downing of the attacking Zionist fighter jet is too ridiculous to address because Iran’s presence in Syria is only in an military advisory capacity at the behest of the legitimate and legal Syrian government.”
Professor Ali Ansari of St. Andrews University in Scotland, the founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, told JNS: “The one thing that did stand out for me was the report that the IRGC may be freelancing in Syria without the knowledge of the formal Iranian government.”
“This is regrettably not an unusual development, but in the context, a worrying one,” said the Iran expert.
Ansari pointed out that Iran could have been testing Israel’s defense capabilities, as well as its reaction. Iran is “in the habit of pushing the envelope to test responses, and this would seem to have been another example of this,” he added, noting it is a risky strategy to adopt.
However, MEMRI’s Savyon sees this explanation as unlikely because of the timing. “It was Tehran that wanted a big show for Revolution Day [Feb. 11], and it seemed that they were prepared for the first strike to cause Israel losses,” she argued.
The New York Times reported on Monday that the drone incident, which set off a flurry of violence, “drew new attention to how deeply Iran has embedded itself in Syria.”
Some in Israel said the report, are starting to refer to a potential “First Northern War,” with the Israel Defense Forces having to cross into both Lebanon and Syria. According to a map it cited by the Institute of the Study of War, Iranian forces and their allies hold two positions near Israel’s border in the Golan Heights, and 10 others located in between Damascus International Airport and the Golan.
As the Syria war has shifted in President Bashar Assad’s favor—thanks to Iran, Hezbollah and Russia—Iran and Hezbollah now have more space from which to launch attacks against Israel from Syria.
The Iranian drone incident signified that Syria is now a real second front in the north alongside Lebanon, and that Israel needs to work diplomatically, militarily and covertly to prevent Iran and Hezbollah’s deepening presence in the country.
Major General Nitzan Alon, head of the IDF Operations Directorate said on Tuesday that “2018 has the potential for escalation of military conflict.” He added: “Not necessarily because either side wants to initiate it, but because of a gradual deterioration. This has led us to raise the level of preparedness.”
As such, Israel has ordered evacuation and defense drills throughout the country and especially at schools and colleges. The exercises are designed to prepare people for the threat of a rocket attack from Iran, or from Gaza.
Also on Tuesday Israeli authorities practiced search and rescue drills to prepare for the aftermath of an attack along with the evacuations. The IDF, the Education Ministry and local authorities all took part in the massive exercise, as was reported by the Israeli media.
Reports in UK publications indicate reveal that exiles fear Iran will trigger a Middle East military conflagration unless the Ayatollah is overthrown in Tehran.
“The next war will be difficult (for Israel), but it will be much more difficult for the other side,” Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, told Army Radio on Monday. Alon said that since the beginning of 2018 there has been a noted increase in the probability of an escalation on Israel’s northern front, as “Hezbollah, with the Iranians backing them, are accelerating their military build-up.”
Alon warned that the people of Lebanon would suffer extensive damage in the event of an all-out war with Israel, saying that ‘the IDF’s firepower, along with its maneuverability are such that those who will be severely hurt will be the other side. I don’t think any Israeli civilian would want to switch places with any Lebanese civilian in the next war,” he added.
The general also said the next war may not be contained only to fighting Hezbollah, but could drag other players into the arena. “Iran’s interest may be to pay with Palestinian blood in order to achieve their interests up north,” he said, suggesting that in the event of a war up north, the Iranians could encourage and fund Palestinian factions to challenge Israel from within.
Also Monday, the Syrian opposition reported significant Syrian military activity on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, roughly 20 kilometers from Israel’s border. According to reports from multiple sources, Assad’s regime and Hezbollah have been on heightened alert and have bolstered their ranks in the towns of Quneitra and Daraa on the assumption that the two towns would become battlegrounds in the event of a clash between Israel and Iranian forces.
Furthermore, the Saudi owned Al-Arabia news website reported that military vehicles belonging to Assad’s regime were scene making their way towards Quneitra.
According to foreign reports, Israel has routinely attacked targets in Syria in recent months, including Iranian strongholds, weapons convoys en-route to Hezbollah, and other targets that threaten Israel. Furthermore, there have also been reports that Israel has become involved with some Sunni rebel factions in southern Syria, with some factions claiming that Israel has been arming them and has recently significantly amped up their military aid to them.
By: Ariel Ben Solomon
(JNS & TPS)