By Efraim Halevy
The IDF [Israel Defense Force] drill conducted on the Golan Heights [on Sept. 19] the day after [the Jewish High Holiday of] Rosh Hashanah, has great importance and came at just the right time. Preceding the maneuvers was a long series of Iranian actions and declarations connected to Tehran’s deepening involvement in Syria. They started by introducing Iranian units into the battlefield alongside Bashar Assad’s forces, and ended with the inflammatory proclamations of high-level Iranian officers against Israel. In addition, Iran has a growing role in molding the future of the regime – any regime – in Damascus. To this, we add [Hezbollah’s leader] Hasan Nasrallah’s defiant exit from his hideout to make a short live appearance at the demonstration that condemned the film [“Innocence of Muslims”] that demeaned and humiliated the Prophet Muhammad, and the boasting of the Hezbollah leader against Israel that has become usual fare over the last years.
Israel’s move was self-evident; it had just the right element of surprise and was well-measured. For the first time, Israel has made it clear that its interests in the fate of Syria’s internal battlefield are more than humanitarian in nature. [The drill also showed] that Israel is ready to face any scenario involving escalating Iranian provocation in the very midst of a neighboring country. This message has increased in importance in light of the reports that the Syrians conducted drills in the use of the chemical weapons at their disposal, in the presence of the Iranians who remain in the country as Assad’s guests.
Israel’s timing was also perfect with regards to broader aspects. Egyptian representatives met in Cairo with the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Iran, to discuss the Syrian crisis. The fourth country that was invited, Saudi Arabia, absented itself. That didn’t prevent the Egyptians from saying harsh words against Iranian actions in Damascus.
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili met on the same day with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. Afterwards, Jalili left for Istanbul where he met with EU Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton, regarding continuation of negotiations on the nuclearization issue. In Ankara, as in Cairo, the Iranian representative was severely criticized for Iran’s activities in Syria. The Turkish newspapers made a point of reporting that the Iranian guest was forced to wait about half an hour outside the door of the prime minister’s office. This “event” was memorialized in photographs that decorated the Turkish newspapers the following morning.
Tehran is having a very, very difficult time these days. While Iran’s growing investments in Syria are encountering increasing acrid criticism, both in the region as well as outside it, the Iranian economy is limping. The entire country is reeling from the impact of the sanctions wielded against it. Iran is advancing toward loss of control over its galloping inflation and the accelerating devaluation of its currency.
We cannot tell from this confluence of circumstances whether Tehran’s leaders feel they are reaching the regime’s breaking point. [But] the Israeli drill on the Golan [Heights] is another element that they will have to take into careful consideration, when they launch attacks throughout Syria and backing up Assad’s crimes against humanity.
In a completely different sphere, and with regards to a different relationship, we hope that the IDF performance [on the Golan Heights] will be duly noted in Washington as well as Moscow. I reckon that neither President Obama nor President Putin will want to allow the Iranians to dictate Syria’s final outline and to drag the entire region, and the world, after them. Let’s hope that the [IDF] exercise will serve as a wake-up call for the [world’s] captains, before the breaches in Syria will signal the blast of war, God forbid.
Read more: AL MONITOR