The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran
Confrontation in Syria
By Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog
The Washington Insitute
December 20, 2017
- In Israel,
much attention has centered on Iranian plans for the establishment of a
sphere of direct influence stretching from its borders to the Mediterranean,
and the consolidation of a military front against Israel in Syria and
- Iran strives
to build and permanently deploy in Syria a sizable proxy army. Iran's
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force built and increasingly leaned
on semiregular militia forces including 100,000 Syrians in the locally based
National Defense Forces, fashioned after the Iranian paramilitary Basij
- No less
important are the non-Syrian militias of 20,000-25,000 Shia fighters
belonging to Lebanese Hizbullah, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces elements,
the Afghani Fatemiyoun brigade, and the Pakistani Zainabiyoun brigade - all
commanded by an Iranian contingent of 1,000-2,000 military personnel.
- Iran is now
working to establish a "Syrian Hizbullah," comprising tens of
thousands of mostly Shia and Alawite members.
- Israel views
Iran's moves in Syria as a major long-term strategic threat. If realized,
they would not only turn Syria into an Iranian protectorate, but also
entrench Iran - a regime sworn to Israel's destruction - in a neighboring
country, thereby enabling it to transform Syria into a terrorist and
military front against Israel.
- In a possible
future military confrontation in its north, Israel will face not only an
active Lebanese front but a Syrian one as well, where Israel expects to
encounter battle-hardened Hizbullah and other "Shia legions,"
along with a rehabilitated Syrian army. These forces will all rely on the
Iranian military presence, military infrastructure, and a substantial rocket
arsenal, adding to Hizbullah's current arsenal of 120,000 rockets in
Iranian plans in Syria would be much better served if Israel's deterrent
actions fit within a broader, proactive U.S. strategy to block Iran in the
region, rather than Israel shouldering most of the burden alone.