Tel Aviv: The US administration is trying to figure out what to expect from the new Israeli “full right” government towards some major issues that are critical to the situation in the Middle East. One major concern results from different signs that the new government is more serious about a possible attack on the Iranian nuclear sites.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit Israel at the end of January in another US attempt to understand what Washington should expect from the Israeli government. The situation created by the new Israeli government has become more complicated due the new defence relations between Russia and Iran.
At this point according to Israeli sources, there are many question marks as the composition of the new government creates a very “fluid” situation as related to some issues that the US see as potential for trouble. And to add to the uncertainty that stems from fast changing situation, Israel has not decided on how to act in a situation in which Moscow is acting to enhance its relations with Iran by getting advanced weapons like more armed UAVs and ballistic missiles and sell SU-35 that were intended to be exported to Egypt, to Iran.
Israel is closely following the new defence relations between Russia and Iran and how they may affect the massive Israeli effort to diminish Tehran’s attempt to establish a much more diversified effective military presence in Syria and Lebanon.
The fast changing situation in the Middle East and the policy of the “full right” Israeli new government to act fully opposite to the previous government, causes serious concerns in Washington. The US has urged Israel to help Ukraine by sending advanced air defence systems. So far Israeli has refused. Some days ago, the Israeli new foreign minister Eli Cohen stated that Israel should not show even verbal support to Ukraine.
A first public sign of the concern is the planned visit in Israel of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to Israel in the middle of January for discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about his government’s policies. The US embassy in Jerusalem was unwilling to comment on Sullivan’s visit.
Brig. General (Ret.) Amos Gilead said that while some actions of the new Israeli government may create friction with the US if it makes changes in some issues that are included in the status quo.
“The defence relations will not be affected but other issues may be affected if the new government acts against the way Washington sees the situation,” he said. Gilead served in many high-ranking positions in the Israeli defence forces (IDF), among them as Head of the Military Intelligence Research Division and Responsible for the Overall National Intelligence Assessment.
While Washington is trying to better assess what to expect from the new Israeli government based on the strange “dual ministers” situation in the Israeli ministry of defence and the statement of the new foreign minister one major concern looms over the region – how will the new “honeymoon” between Russia and Iran affect the Israeli defence interests?
According to Israel sources, this issue will also be on the table during the visit of Sullivan in Israel later this month.
The major Israeli concern is that Moscow will ask Jerusalem to stop its attacks on shipments of weapon systems from Iran to Lebanon via Syria.
Carmit Valensi, a senior researcher in the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel, said that without any doubt Russia rewards Iran for its assistance in the war in Ukraine, in addition to the money transferred for the Iranian armed UAVs.
“It is clear that Iran will ask and get more freedom of action in the Middle East, and that may change the situation for Israel,” she asserted.
To be able to identify any Iranian hostile action including in Syria and Lebanon, Israel on December 30 launched a new advanced spy satellite – the Eros C3. The satellite was launched from the Vandenberg space force base using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. This very advanced satellite manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) carries a multi-spectral optical payload. This spy satellite joins previously launched satellites from the same series and the Ofeq series.
As Syria backed the Russian invasion, it may ask Russia to act in order to stop the frequent Israeli attacks on Iranian-made weapon shipments going to Lebanon through Syria. This expected development seems to be more critical as Iran has intensified its effort to use the air link to Syria for its weapon shipments after the constant targeting of ground route by Israel.
According to Iran international website, four Airbus A340s aircraft bound for Uzbekistan departed South Africa last week but diverted to Iran and now the country’s authorities say they have purchased them.
The four A340-300 were formerly operated by Turkish Airlines before their retirement in March and April 2019. The planes were bought by a company from Hong Kong — AVRO Global – and were later transferred and stored at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg until December. For the past few years, the planes have simply been parked at Johannesburg Airport and were registered in Guernsey.
Iran has suffered from shortages of civilian airliners since the 1990s and used a variety of ways to lease older planes or buy spare parts through intermediaries, but the technical state of its fleet has been deteriorating.
After he formed his new government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that one of his main missions is to stop the Iranian nuclear program. In the past, this mission was not accomplished. Now with a new government with extreme far-right ministers, one as a second minister in the ministry of defence, the Israeli prime minister faces a new challenge not only connected to the operational aspects of an Israeli attack in Iran.
So far, Moscow gave Israel almost total freedom in its attacks on the Iranian weapon shipmates arriving to Syria.
The new Iran – Russia “love story” and the public Syrian backing for the Russian invasion may according to Israeli sources change the situation.
Dr Jennifer Shkabatur , an expert on Russian issues from the Reichman university in Israel said that after Russia withdrew some of its forces from Syria, it’s only natural that Iran is feeling free to fill the gap with Moscow’s consent.
“Russia expects that Iran will act according to its interests. The Russian status in the Middle East has been downgraded and they find it very useful to act in accordance with Iran,” the researcher said. She added that Israel should expect a change in Moscow’s attitude towards the Israeli attacks on Iranian weapon shipments. “ The near future will be very challenging for Israel related to its continued efforts to seal the flow of Iranian-made weapon systems to the Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
On January 1, the Damascus international airport was attacked and two its runways were closed. The airport has also been attacked in June 2022. According to a report prepared by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Syria has backed the Russian invasion. On February 25, 2022, Syria state media reported that Assad called Putin and praised Russia’s actions as a “correction of history and [a] rebalance to the world…lost after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.” He also emphasised, “that Syria supports the Russian Federation, based on its conviction of its correct stance that repelling NATO expansion is Russia’s right.” He then claimed that “Western countries bear responsibility for chaos and bloodshed as a result of their policies aimed at controlling peoples, as these countries use their dirty methods to support terrorists in Syria and the Nazis in Ukraine and in various parts of the world.”
Lebanon is actually controlled by Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy.
On March 1, 2022 Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasr Allah commented on the war, rejecting the Foreign Ministry’s statement and blaming Washington: “Western countries have done everything against Russia except for direct combat. Today, the world only respects the strong, and it has remained silent in the face of US violations…The United States is to blame for the crisis in Ukraine, as Washington had been inciting and working on this scenario for weeks.” He also argued that “Moscow has the right to protect its borders and national security.”
Sources in Israel said that the new relations between Russia and Iran may also affect the Israeli plans to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel says its ability to strike Iranian nuclear sites has improved and attacks could happen in a few years, while Iran is entrenching near the Syrian capital. The fact that Russia is busy with the never-ending war in Ukraine and uses Iranian-made armed UAV’s, allows Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Since late in November, Syria and Iran have been deploying new air defence systems, including jamming and early warning systems, around Damascus to prevent Israeli airstrikes in the area. There are reports that the new systems were built by Korean and Chinese companies and provided by Iran as part of agreements reached between Damascus and Tehran.