This is the conclusion to the special report on Iran's war on Israel, read part one here: Iran Prepares For War With Israel
All of the recent geopolitical developments in the Middle East have not been lost in Jerusalem.
Even as Israel remained immersed in a major political crisis in the aftermath of two inconclusive parliamentary elections, the security cabinet and the defense establishment are focused on the looming Iranian threat and the specter of a major war. The US betrayal and abandonment of the Kurds, reluctance to retaliate against Iran, and overall intent to withdraw from the Middle East both emboldened Tehran and deeply worried Jerusalem that Israel would find itself alone facing a major war with Iran, its allies and proxies.
Jerusalem concluded recently that it was no longer possible to discard the possibility of a major surprise attack by Iran and its main proxies — Hizballah and the HAMAS — which would aim to hit and destroy national infrastructure in the Israeli rear as well as inflict heavy civilian casualties, a known sensitivity of Israeli society.
While Jerusalem was making strenuous efforts to be able to detect and forestall preparations for such a surprise attack, the Israeli Government was increasingly apprehensive that this might not be possible and that Israel would, therefore, face a protracted and painful major war.
Israeli Intelligence now believed that Tehran had recently reached the same conclusions: namely, that there is no escape from a major war with Israel.
The ongoing low-level confrontation between Israel and Iran was leading nowhere. Related: What Trump’s “Baffling Decision” Means For The Saudi-Iran Crisis
For Iran, the attrition, costs and delays caused by the Israeli strikes were painful, but they have failed to reverse the consolidation of the ongoing Iranian access to the Mediterranean. With the war in Syria subsiding and the US threat in the Persian Gulf virtually removed, Tehran saw a unique opportunity to move quickly for the consolidation of an irreversible Shi’ite Crescent.
Moreover, the ongoing Turkish invasion and prospects for clashes with Syria made it imperative for Iran to secure the on-land route for a significantly larger flow of supplies and reinforcements. Hence the growing sense of urgency. Therefore, Israeli intelligence concluded, Tehran had resolved that there must soon be a dramatic breakout that would enable Iran to consolidate the posture of a major regional power and project this on the Persian Gulf as well.
The Houthi UAV strikes on the Saudi oil installations in mid-May and mid-September 2019 served as a wake-up call for Israeli intelligence. The extent of the damage caused and the accuracy of the hits exceeded all prior estimates of the capabilities of Iran and the Iran-proxies. Israeli intelligence sources told Arie Egozi of Breaking Defense that both Saudi Arabia and the US suffered “a total and embarrassing (intelligence) failure” and “had no idea Iran was planning to attack the Kingdom’s oil facilities”.
The vaunted Israeli intelligence did not fare better. Emboldened by the dramatic success of the UAV strikes on Saudi Arabia, Iran might be tempted to launch a similar attack on Israel before effective countermeasures were developed. Hence, Jerusalem was now worried more than before about the possibility of an Iranian surprise attack and the potential damage to Israeli strategic objectives.
Another key factor worrying Israel was the evolving Russian position vis-à-vis Iran. Russia had long objected to Iranian dominance over Syria and Iraq, but had to tolerate the Iranian presence because of the need for the Iran-controlled Shi’ite forces as cannon fodder for saving Damascus. But the Russian resolve was no longer as adamant as before.
Russia’s growing disagreements and even tension with Turkey over the future of the greater Middle East, the greater Black Sea Basin and Central Asia were reaching new levels after the Turkish invasion of northern Syria and growing support for Russian- and Chinese- speaking jihadists. Related: Buffett’s Big Bet On Energy
The Kremlin is apprehensive that a crisis with Ankara might cause problems to the Russian passage through the Turkish Straits. Hence, Russia is considering alternate on-land routes for sending supplies to Syria: shipping from the Caucasus through Azerbaijan to Iran by rail, and then using the Iran-dominated route to the Russian bases on the Mediterranean.
Hence, Moscow had already asked Jerusalem to desist from attacking the route. But this gives Iran better conditions for escalating. While media reports of Russian Air Force interceptors blocking and turning back Israeli Air Force strike formations are grossly exaggerated, they do reflect a growing Russian inclination to reduce the damage to the Tehran-Mediterranean route.
And so, Israel, commemorating the national trauma of the surprise attack of the October 1973 War, is watching anxiously the latest developments in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.
The audacity of the new Iranian doctrine is clear, and so are the pertinent undertakings throughout the greater Middle East. The repeated Iranian assertions of both the commitment and ability to destroy Israel are unnerving for Jerusalem. However, the mullahs in Tehran have thus far been prudent and leery of taking unnecessary risks.
Will the combination of the seeming urgent imperative for a dramatic breakout and the unique strategic and military opportunities tempt the mullahs to grow bold and initiate war?
Or might the building tension and mounting military preparations on both sides, Iran and Iran’s proxies and Israel, have lives of their own, leading to an eruption of violence by design or accident?
Meanwhile, the specter of an intelligence failure is keeping Israel on edge.
By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
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