Iran, Israel, Syria: Is War Up Ahead?
In the summer of 2015, the European Union, China, Russia, and the U.S. sat down to construct a deal that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For years prior, Iran had been slowly trying to gather the materials necessary to make the bomb, while Israel and the rest of the world watched with concern. A nuclear Iran would threaten the stability of the region even more, as they continue to threaten Israel and compete with Saudi Arabia. Since Russia, China, the United States, the UK, and France had acquired nuclear weapons, it had been the goal to prevent other countries from getting the same capability. Unfortunately, India, Pakistan, Israel, and at this point North Korea all possess nuclear weapons. While North Korea is an entirely different issue, the world’s nuclear powers were determined to reach a deal that would at least hamper Iran’s ability. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), settled in 2015 by the Obama administration, lifted the economic sanctions from Iran, while Iran was forced to limit their uranium enrichment, and close a number of their centrifuge facilities.
Iran would also be forced to submit to very rigorous inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure they were complying with the restrictions of the deal. Fortunately for the government, the deal allowed them to use billions worth of financial resources to fund their efforts to dominate influence in the region. For them, this meant continuing to fund the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, while coordinating with Russia and the Syrian government to develop military assets in Syria.
President Trump famously declared during the campaign that the Iran deal was one of the worst deals he had ever seen. However, while he pledged to pull out of the deal during his campaign, for the first year of his administration, it remained unknown if he would follow through. After all, the European Union, Britain, France, and Germany particularly, were determined to remain in the deal. Many other conservatives such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz, railed against the deal, noting how Iran could not be trusted to obey the regulations, while Israel faced increased risk of an attack from Iran in Syria.
In the past few weeks, two events were significant in signaling what direction the Trump administration would take. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, paid a visit to Washington D.C. and was hosted with a very elegant dinner. There seemed to be much goodwill and friendship developed between Trump and Macron, but it was clear that Macron had come partially to convince Trump to remain in the deal. There was no formal announcement that the U.S. would stay in the deal and shortly after there was speculation that the president would make an announcement.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was also no supporter of the Iran deal. He saw it correctly as an opportunity for Iran to build military assets in Syria to use to launch missiles into the northern region of Israel. In a bold move in front of the international press, he gave a presentation on the deal, displaying the intelligence files that Israel had seized from one of Iran’s top secret facilities. In the presentation, Netanyahu showed how several of the files proved that Iran had lied about their nuclear weapons program before and after the deal was established. He summarized saying, “Iran lied about never having a secret nuclear program. Secondly, even after the deal, it continued to expand its nuclear program for future use. Thirdly, Iran lied by not coming clean to the IAEA…”. Netanyahu had famously presented his concerns about Iran’s nuclear capability to the international community before to no avail. To him, pulling out of the deal was a step in the right direction for Israel’s security.
While much of the media, President Obama, and many foreign policy analysts bemoaned the announcement, the President formally exited the deal on Tuesday. This will now trigger a countdown throughout the summer until the U.S. will restate sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, there are still grave security concerns on how Iran will act in response. Thus far, they began with a barrage of missiles on the Golan Heights, which is on the Syrian border, launched from airbases in Syria. Israel responded with a heavy attack on the Iranian infrastructure in Syria. Top military officials in Israel declared that the strike had been successful in destroying most of the infrastructure. The response should come as no surprise as Israel did warn the U.S. and Russia that any attack from Iran in Syria or from Hezbollah would be followed by a heavy retaliation.
It would be a terrible exaggeration to declare that war is coming between Iran and Israel. However, the U.S. will continue to keep a close eye on the region. The goal has always been to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, preferably with a diplomatic solution. The U.S. is leaving all options on the table as they seek to keep the region from spiraling into war. While Iran enjoys making dangerous threats, they do not seem committed to a full-scale war. It is still suspected that Iran may continue launching attacks into Israel, expecting a response, but with no greater escalation. Regardless, it will continue to be a dangerous game of waiting and watching as foreign policy analysts and cable news hosts debate the consequences of leaving the Iran deal.