Just days ago, Israel openly voiced its frustrations with the United States for not taking a stronger role in countering Iran’s growing influence in neighboring Syria, a red line for Israel that has them planning to assault Syria’s sovereignty in order to defend its interests.
“It is convenient for the Americans to let us be their proxy against Iran in Syria,” one senior Israeli official said, according to the Times of Israel. “We are very worried.”
“Let me be direct. There is a need for greater American involvement in making sure that Iran doesn’t turn Syria into a puppet state,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan last week reportedly told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Every day that Iran entrenches itself in Syria brings war closer. There is no vacuum.”
“If the U.S. chooses not to be a major player in shaping the future of Syria, then others will — and trust me, it won’t be the democratically elected representatives of the Syrian people,” Erdan added.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) recent annual policy conference in Washington focused intently on Iran, particularly in relation to Trump’s longstanding strategy of derailing the Iranian nuclear agreement formed in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Writing for Foreign Policy, former ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro acknowledged that the U.S.’ open-ended military presence in Syria was purported to have five objectives, as identified by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They include “preventing Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, including by holding key border areas to prevent the establishment of an Iran-controlled land bridge.”
However, this strategy was put into doubt when Donald Trump stated last month that the U.S. was in Syria for one reason only — “to get ISIS” and “go home.” General Joseph Votel of the U.S. Central Command also testified before the House Armed Services Committee last month and stated that countering Iran is not one of the coalition missions in Syria.
Despite its tough rhetoric, Israel is not in a position to take on Iran directly. Last year, a top Israeli general tasked with writing his country’s defense policy admitted that Israel cannot take on Iran’s military alone, making it clear that Israel would need American intervention. In April 2013, the U.S. Senate Committee passed Resolution 65 to back Israel should it be drawn into a conflict with Iran (remember, this was passed under the Obama administration, the same administration that some people felt was not pro-Israel enough). Vice President Mike Pence put the resolution into practice this week, stating at AIPAC’s event that the U.S. will support Israel if it is attacked by Iran.
The truth is that while Israel voices its frustration with what it terms as U.S. “inaction,” a showdown between Iran and the United States in Syria is becoming increasingly inevitable. Whether the U.S. admits it or not, and whether intentionally done or not, the American mission on the ground in Syria is preventing Iranian military entrenchment of the country by blocking key border areas to deny Iranian-backed forces a land bridge stretching from Tehran through Syria and into the territory of Iran’s other close allies.
After reports began circulating last month that Russian personnel had died in a U.S.-led assault in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, the media was quick to paint the incident as one of Russian-backed aggression against the United States.