Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani owe a great debt of gratitude to the West for its contribution to bolstering the Islamic republic’s power, and while neither of them can be mistaken for righteous, their work has been and is being done by others.
The 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and Western powers, led by the Obama administration, has revived the Iranian economy and allowed Tehran to pursue lucrative international contracts. Moreover, despite the agreement, Iran remains a nuclear-threshold state and in the not-so-distant future, when certain limitations outlined in the deal elapse, it will be able to build nuclear weapons unhindered.
Perhaps even more serious is the Western coalition’s indirect “contribution” to the Iranians and their allies’ territorial expansion in the Middle East. The explanation for this is simple: the West’s obsessive focus on the war against the Islamic State group has paved the way for the flow of pro-Iranian Shiite militias into the Iraqi and Syrian spheres, which has emptied of Sunni insurgents. Khamenei could not have hoped for a better outcome.
But as a result of these developments, for the first time since the Arab Spring plunged the Middle East into turmoil in 2011, Israel is facing the actual threat of a “small Shiite crescent” on its northern border, meaning a strip of territory controlled by Hezbollah forces and pro-Iranian Shiite militias, which will stretch from Rosh Hanikra, near the Israel-Lebanon border in the west to where the Israel-Syria-Jordan borders converge in the southern Golan Heights.
While this is not an existential threat, it cannot be taken lightly. Israel has repeatedly demanded that any agreement mediated by Russia and the U.S. to end the civil war in Syria include a specific stipulation keeping pro-Iranian forces away from Israel’s border in the Golan Heights. So far, this demand has gone unheeded, underscoring the severity of the problem.
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who briefed the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet on the Iranian threat on Sunday, was right when he said that Israel alone cannot curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If Israel were to launch a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities without coordinating with the U.S., it could spark chaos in the Middle East.
Israel and the international community are not the only ones now carefully monitoring what U.S. President Donald Trump may do — the Iranians are also watching. If Trump proves hesitant or soft on North Korea, Iran will take it to mean that he is a paper tiger, looking at the U.S. administration as nothing to fear.
This is not true as far as the threat lurking on the northern border. The most effective way of dealing with the possible deployment of Iranian, Hezbollah and pro-Iranian militias not only in Lebanon but also in the Golan Heights, is to prevent their presence in the area altogether.
Given the military abilities these hostile elements possess, this is a red line for Israel. If Western powers fail to ensure their removal from the area near the border, Israel must make it clear that it will act — independently if necessary. Such action would constitute a departure from the Israel’s long-time policy of steering clear of any military involvement in the ongoing civil war in Syria.