Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Stop playing make-believe - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

The world must be forced to see that a benevolent and responsible Iran does not exist – only the same old Iran, dangerous and manipulative, which, unrestrained, will plunge the entire world into a hazardous tailspin.

The information revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday was meant to prod the international community to stop playing make-believe around the Iranian issue. It essentially shows us that another Iran, benevolent and responsible, does not exist – rather only the same old Iran, dangerous and manipulative, which unrestrained will plunge the entire world into a hazardous tailspin. Israeli officials had poured over this material for several weeks.

Before it was made public, it was also transferred to the Americans, and now it will pass on to other friendly countries – specifically those signed to the nuclear deal with Tehran. Although none of this information is new or implicates Iran of currently violating the nuclear deal, peeling the Iranians' mask off isn't only geared toward pushing Trump to annul the deal (which is expected to happen May 12), but toward reforging an international coalition to again force Iran into a corner – among other means by exploiting its shoddy economy and deepening social rifts between conservatives and reformists. Israel has a double interest in this regard: First, Israel fears a nuclear Iran and wants to delay its path to a bomb as long as possible; and second, it hopes that exposing Iran's activities at this juncture will also disrupt its efforts to establish a foothold in Syria.

These interlocking tracks have yet to garner a great deal of empathy from a fatigued international community (outside of Washington) still hoping to find big and easy money in Iran. Consequently, Israel has been abandoned in this fight. Alone, it has had to gather the intelligence used to expose Iran's clandestine nuclear efforts (an extraordinary achievement by the intelligence community, spearheaded by the Mossad) and its activities in Syria.

The attack Monday morning, for example, which has been attributed to Israel, was carried out after a string of reports and warnings – which seemed to perturb no one, not in the least the Iranians, who despite sustaining several blows simply assumed they were free to continue pursuing their ambitions unfettered. Monday's attack was unusual in its scope. It was uncommon to hit three targets simultaneously, and the destroyed weapons were not earmarked for Hezbollah but for the Shiite militias operating in Syria under Iranian command.

There were apparently fewer Iranian casualties than initially reported. Regardless, this incident significantly fuels Iran's motivation to retaliate and hurt Israel, as the taskmasters in Tehran can't be pleased with the reality taking shape on the ground – namely that their activities are transparent to Israel and they are incapable of defending themselves or their allies. Assessments that Iran is, in fact, plotting a response, led Israel in recent days to deliver warnings to a variety of official parties that this could spark a broad war.

Indeed, unlike previous incidents, the two most recent attacks attributed to Israel did not involve reports of Syrian anti-aircraft batteries shooting at Israeli jets. Warnings were also conveyed to Moscow – which wants quiet in Syria so it can enjoy the fruits its economic rehabilitation.

The Russians have thus far invested very little energy in stopping Tehran, but recent developments – highlighted by Monday's revelation – impose a complicated dilemma.

It's reasonable to assume, as per their custom, that the Russians will continue sitting on the fence and avoid playing a regional role that is actually constructive. The ball, therefore, is now in three different courts: Israeli, American and Iranian. Israel has repeatedly stressed it will do everything in its power to stymie Iran, at almost any price, through rare wall-to-wall consensus among the countries diplomatic and military echelon, which share an identical view of the threat, its urgent nature and the ways to combat it. The Americans to this point have avoided taking tangible action and presumably will now thrust their hand into the cauldron (with the dual goal of preparing the groundwork for negotiations with North Korea). The Iranians can determine what this next period will look like.

As stated, Iran is expected to retaliate. The question is where and to what degree. Israeli officials are preparing for extreme possibilities, including escalations leading to a conflagration. It's doubtful this will be the case, but the latest developments indicate we are on the brink of the boiling point.

Yoav Limor


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