by: Brian Schrauger, News Bureau Chief
Israel’s attention has turned to the north, as it must. While to the south Hamas remains a threat, it is a cobra in the sand compared to the resurrected lion of Persia and its pack of predator states pressing in on Israel’s northern fence. And egging them on, pushing them toward Israel, is the reawakened bear of Russia, hungry from its hibernating fast since 1991.
The Persian lion is Iran, directly to the east of Israel. Its growing pack of predator states includes portions of Iraq and, to Israel’s north, Syria and Lebanon. In an apparent attempt to encircle the Jewish state, Iran is actively recruiting Hamas in Gaza and, intriguingly, Yemen and Sudan, guardians to the Red Sea. Why the Red Sea? One of its forks leads directly to Israel’s southern ports in Eilat. The other is the world’s shipping thoroughfare through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean from which all of Israel’s west coast is accessible.
By itself, the threat to Israel from Persia and its pack of proxies is from the east, north, south, west and perhaps within—via Hamas.
What makes the threat massive, and primarily to the north, is Russia. With more than one-eighth of the world’s land mass, it looms above Israel like a mammoth cloud. On the map, the part that reaches downward toward the Middle East looks like a funnel. And centered just above the vortex? Moscow.
Like a bear sent into hibernation a little over twenty years ago, Russia has reawakened under Putin to a world being furrowed by Islamic Jihad, its planted seeds now budding, watered with the blood of Arab Spring and the Islamic State. Hungry, huge and ruthless, Russia today is moving southward toward the Middle East, toward its best prospects for resources, trade and energy. In 2014, Russia strengthened trade relations with Iran via ports that each nation has on the Caspian Sea. It also reacquired control over Crimea in the Black Sea from which it has access to the Mediterranean—and Israel.
Through both routes, Russia is aggressively promoting its best-selling products: space-age technology, sophisticated armaments and nuclear energy, including the tantalizing prize of plutonium generated by the latter. Iran is one of Russia’s largest customers for atomic-powered plants. And just this year, Egypt signed up with Russia for one of its own. Why? Because the prospect of Iran with nuclear weapons is igniting a passive-aggressive nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Russia knows it, provokes it and profits by it.
Although it does not yet have nuclear weapons, Iran is ready to rumble with the Jewish state. Its predator puppet, Hezbollah in Lebanon, is itching for a fight. Armed with more than one hundred thousand Iranian missiles aimed at all points in Israel, why is it not firing now? Three reasons: nuclear negotiations, Russian influence and the Islamic State.
Negotiations about its nuclear undertakings are one reason why Iran is holding back. UN-authorized talks are being conducted by a six-member group of nations called the P5+1. One of its members is Russia.
In 2014, and this year too, Russia’s military activities in Ukraine have drawn condemnation from fellow P5+1 members. None of these, however, has indicated willingness to use anything more than words in response to Russia’s military moves south toward Israel. Like Iran, but with its own agenda, Russia plays a transparently duplicitous game. Giving lip service to the goal that Iran not become a nuclear state, it simultaneously helps Iran develop nuclear weapons technology. As such, Russia holds some sway over the timing of Iran’s launch against Israel.
The Islamic State is another reason why, at least for now, Iran is holding back. On the map, the renegade group looks like a blob that spills across the borders of northern Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. The essence of its appeal to Muslim millennials is that it is “badder” than Iran. Its public executions, broadcast in “snuff” videos around the world, have won it the attention it desires. That attention also provides international cover for Iran while it scrambles to solidify its publicly denied goal of nuclear weapons technology.
While Western nations agonize about Islamic State, Persia plays each side against the other. Like Russia, but with its own agenda, Iran plays to both sides. To an agonizing West, it sells itself as an ally to fight the Islamic State. But at the same time, its “supreme leader,” Ali Hosseini Khamenei, is making overtures to the ruthless group.
Conventional wisdom is that Iran’s Shia brand of Islam is irreconcilable with Islamic State’s Sunni variety. But conventional wisdom could be wrong. For the past two years Khamenei has engaged in an overt campaign for Shia-Sunni unity. That campaign has included conferences in Tehran and a long list of appeals via his English Twitter account. Accordingly, Tehran has made alliances with various Sunni organizations and states, including Hamas, Yemen, and Sudan.
Iran’s ambition to forge an Islamic global power, a caliphate, is identical to the Islamic State. That ambition, combined with its resources, compels Iran to absorb the Islamic State, not defeat it in battle. If it is absorbed, especially just as Iran obtains nuclear weapons, its reawakened Persian empire will come to life, unified and with breathtaking power. The risk is real. And as Iran’s leaders repeatedly assert, the empire’s first target for annihilation is Israel.
Why is tiny Israel such a provocative target for both Iran and Russia? The likely answer is a mix of Israel’s energy, intellectual and spiritual resources. More than any place or any other nation, Israel poses a direct challenge to ideologies used by Russia and Iran to justify their quest for global domination.
The problem for Israel is that its closest allies are increasingly disenfranchised with the Jewish state. Atmospheres of petty politics and a growing fog of Western anti-Semitism are isolating Israel. From a military point of view, more and more it appears the Jewish state faces the lion of Persia and the Russian bear alone.
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