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How to understand the Iranian threat – opinion

In the years leading up to World War II, there were some voices willing to take a public stand on the magnitude of the challenge facing the world. The most famous British voice was of course Winston Churchill, who sat in the British Parliament in the decade before his appointment as Prime Minister, with the latest data on Germany’s military build-up rivaling even what the British Cabinet possessed.

In the 1930s much of this material flocked to Chartwell, Churchill’s country home, where he met with British officers, civil servants and diplomats. He was armed with information about the growth of the German Luftwaffe in acquiring new submarines that could undermine Britain’s naval superiority. Churchill’s legacy is more relevant than ever. Last weekend, an Israeli F-35 pilot known only as Colonel “T.” gave an interview to Israel Hayom in which he revealed his analysis of the current Iranian military buildup.

Normally, officials who were permitted to speak focused on Iran’s nuclear program or, alternatively, their support for Shia terrorist militias in the Middle East. Colonel T.’s conclusions had a different focus and were worth studying very carefully: “A regional superpower is emerging alongside us, which poses the main threat to the State of Israel and will continue to challenge the Israeli approach to security for many years to come.” He spoke of “a dramatic leap forward in its military prowess.”

“A regional superpower is emerging alongside us, which poses the main threat to the State of Israel and will challenge the Israeli approach to security for many years to come.”

Colonel T

Adding to Colonel T.’s credentials is the fact that he is the Chief of the Directorate for Strategy and Third Circuit of the IDF General Staff. In other words, it is his responsibility to recommend what action Israel must take if Tehran breaches and tests a nuclear device. His warnings went further than the nuclear threat. There were Iranian actions in the Red Sea and across Africa that needed to be monitored.

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Iran recently sold its drones to Russia to fight Ukraine. In the past, major powers like Russia sold their most advanced weapons to the Middle East, but now the direction of those sales began to reverse as an Iranian military industry began supplying Russia. This testified to how far Iran had progressed.

A police motorcycle burns during a protest against the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s ‘moral police’ September 19, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. (Credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY ) VIA REUTERS)

Iran has clearly chosen a long-term approach. It was in 2004 that King Abdullah of Jordan first raised the specter of a “Shia crescent” crossing the Middle East from the Iranian border through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean coast. Over the past two decades, this has been more than a supply route for Hezbollah’s armaments.

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What does Iran want?

IRAN WANTED to reshape the Middle East. It had deployed proxy Shia armies and their families into Syria to reconfigure the region’s demographics while seeking to transform Syria into a Shia state. Elsewhere, similar techniques were used to expand the Shia population in eastern Turkey. Taking all of this activity over the last few years together, it is no wonder that Colonel T. concluded that “a threat is emerging here on a scale we have never known before”.

In Damascus in 2008, Shia militias broke into the famous Umayyad Mosque, one of the symbols of Sunni dominance in Syria, to pray. In 2015, cases were reported of Iraqi and Lebanese Shia militias entering the Umayyad Mosque and chanting prayers that Sunnis considered blasphemous prayers. Shia militias are deployed around Shia shrines in and around Damascus.

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Finally, Iran is using Syria as a location for new missile production facilities, particularly long-range precision-guided missiles. In some cases, Iran attempted to place some of these facilities underground. In short, Syria emerged as part of Iran’s strategic system for the region. This didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Iranians have a historical tradition that connects them to Syria and the surrounding states. When the Shiites were introduced as the state religion in Persia by the Safavid dynasty in 1501, the Safavid Empire included what is now Iran, Iraq and large parts of Syria. Regaining lost territories became a feature of the politics of the Safavids and their great western rival, the Ottoman Empire. In this context, it is easy to understand where Iran’s ambitions for regional expansionism came from.

Israel can handle the new Iranian challenge, despite its scale. The most dangerous aspect of the Iranian threat comes from those in the international community, and sometimes in Israel, who don’t see the full picture of what Iran is up to.

Challenging an aggressor’s actions is primarily a military mission. But it is also a diplomatic operation that needs to be pursued in parallel. This is certainly what drove Churchill before the outbreak of World War II and perhaps of late has influenced those who speak for Israel today. Undoubtedly, the next Israeli government will have no choice but to act more vigorously and consistently in this regard.

The author is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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