By Iran Review
Ramin Nadimi, expert in Defense and Military Affairs, interviews Seyyed Reza Mirtaher, expert on International Security & Strategic Issues.
Q: Recent victories gained by of the resistance front, which is made up of Syria, Iran, and the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, have greatly increased the possibility of putting an end to the civil war in Syria with President Bashar Assad’s government emerging as the victor. Can increased power of this front cause security concerns on the part of the Zionist regime of Israel? What reactions can the Tel Aviv regime show to new conditions?
A: The civil war in Syria started in 2011 following a cascading wave of unrest, which swept through the Arab world in the form of various popular movements, and then turned into a full-scale military uprising followed by a civil war. Since that time, the Zionist regime has been closely watching the situation in Syria, finding it totally in line with its own security goals and objectives. In other words, the Zionist regime has been trying for a long time to somehow affect the efficiency and continuity of the resistance front in the region and to disrupt its continuity as much as possible. In fact, the unrest and then the civil war in Syria provided Israel with an exceptional opportunity to do this. Perhaps, it was for this reason that Israelis supported Syria’s opposition groups, especially Takfiri groups, during the civil war in Syria. They provided such groups with both logistical backing and medical support, and even moved to take care of those members of these groups, who were injured during clashes in certain regions of Syria, which were close to the occupied Palestine. We even witnessed that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, personally visited those Takfiri militants who had been injured and were put up in field hospitals in the occupied Golan. Naturally, continuation of the ongoing crisis in Syria led to involvement of the resistance front, including Iran, the government of Syria and Hezbollah movement in a war of attrition with high casualties, and this situation was deemed to be in line with Israel’s security objectives.
Therefore, Israelis were very content that instead of focusing on equipping itself and bolstering its capabilities along Lebanon’s southern border with the Zionist regime, Hezbollah movement had to mobilize all its forces and use all its capabilities in the conflict with various opposition groups in Syria, including Takfiri groups and secular groups that were opposed to the Syrian government. This issue was considered the greatest advantage of the Syrian war for Israel. Evidently, now that the situation and conditions have changed in Syria and the balance of power has been altered, Israelis are currently more concerned than before. This concern can be viewed from two angles.
On the one hand, this concern stems from the wide scope of conflicts in Syria, which allows Hezbollah to withdraw important parts of its forces and capabilities from Syria and redeploy them to Lebanon. From the viewpoint of Israeli strategists, this issue means increased intensity of this movement’s threat against the Zionist regime. Another point is related to Israel’s claims about construction of missile bases and shelters in southern regions of Lebanon and the Golan region of Syria close to Israel. They claim that Iranian forces, along with Hezbollah fighters, are setting up installations, shelters and bunkers in areas close to the occupied Golan, which in view of Israel, will be most probably used as storage facilities for Hezbollah’s missiles. In this way, the Lebanese Hezbollah will be able to threaten the Zionist regime not only from southern Lebanon, but also from Golan region in Syria. The second point about this change in balance of power is that conditions along Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon will get back to the pre-war state.
In other words, Iran has been able to concentrate Hezbollah fighters, who can pose a great threat to the Zionist regime, in areas close to Israel’s borders. It goes without saying that such a change in conditions and balance of power cannot be desirable to Israel and this is why some analysts believe that the Zionist regime is planning to form a tripartite coalition along with Iran’s major regional and transregional enemies, that is, Saudi Arabia and the United States. They argue that the main function of such a coalition would be to counter Iran’s regional policies as well as its alleged missile threats. It is clear that what they mean by Iran’s “regional threats” is an effort made by Iran to use its proxy groups in Lebanon, Yemen and other parts of the region in order to change the regional balance of power and security equations to the detriment of the Western front and its allies in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, when they talk about Iran’s missile threats they are, actually, pointing to two issues. First of all, Iran’s missile arsenal, which consists of Shahab, Qadr and Emad ballistic missiles, with the second issue being Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, which according to some estimates is made up of 80,000-300,000 rockets and missiles.
Q: How possible, do you think, is another war between the Zionist regime and Hezbollah and what is your opinion about the consequences of such a conflict?
A: The Zionist regime inflicted heavy losses and causalities on Lebanon during the 33-day war in 2006, but for the first time, Israelis themselves suffered heavy losses and casualties in a terrestrial war as well. Since that time, Israel has been constantly seeking to revenge that defeat in any way possible. Of course, apart from the issue of revenge, Israeli strategists currently define the concept of “threat perception” in a way to include deployment of a paramilitary force along the northern borders of the Zionist regime, which is equipped with a wide range of all kinds of rockets and missiles, which can easily reach any point on the Israeli soil.
Since this issue is considered a national security threat for Israel, and especially in view of the change in the balance of power in Syria’s civil war after all bases of Daesh have collapsed in Syria and Iraq, it is easy to guess that it is important for Israelis to prevent a change in conditions in favor of the resistance front at this juncture.
Perhaps the recent political plot hatched by the government of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon, which took place through forcing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to relinquish his post and led to some sort of political, military and security crisis in this country, can be considered along the same lines. It also seems that the triangle of the United States, the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia is trying at the present juncture to create special conditions in Lebanon under which political tensions or the possibility of increased security tensions among armed elements of March 14 and March 8 alliances would pave the way for further clashes and unrest in the country. By doing this, they seek to provide Israel with an excuse to attack Hezbollah.
A glance at what Saad Hariri said after returning to Lebanon will show that Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of the team led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is expected to become the Saudi king in the near future, aims to embark on a major adventurism in Lebanon. If this adventurism becomes real, it would be easy to guess that the Zionist regime would also get involved. In that case, Israelis are sure to launch a major military effort, especially through air strikes, to destroy new installations that they claim have been set up in Syria’s Golan Heights and also to destroy Hezbollah’s missile bases, especially in southern Lebanon.
Q: Do you think that in case of a new military conflict involving Israel in Lebanon or Syria, Iran will directly get involved in it?
A: In reality, Iran has never been directly involved in conflicts in Lebanon and, perhaps, this has never been necessary. Taking into account that the Lebanese Hezbollah movement enjoys the main tools to deal blows to Israel, including long-range missiles, there has never been a time when Iran’s direct involvement has been necessary.
At the present time, Hezbollah fighters are able to take advantage of all kinds of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) to carry out reconnaissance missions and also use armed drones in their confrontations with Israelis. This is why the military officials of the Zionist regime have been feeling serious concerns, especially if drones are made of composite material, which makes their detection and subsequent interception very difficult.
Another element, which has led to superiority of Hezbollah in its faceoff with Israel, is highly motivated fighters of this movement, who have become quite experienced through long years of war. During the civil war in Syria, these fighters were up against various kinds of armed groups and their level of combat preparedness must be considered to be very high.
At the same time, the command and control as well as communications structure within Hezbollah has been highly elevated and turned into a determining factor improving this group’s performance in all kinds of war. During recent years, Hezbollah has been able to form a wide network of command, control, communications and intelligence, which will certainly be of very high importance in any kind of military operation. These facts prove that in case of any faceoff with Hezbollah, Israelis must be prepared to suffer heavy blows.
Q: What is your assessment, as an expert in defense affairs, of new arms deals signed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to buy various military equipment, including missile defense systems and F-35 stealth fighter jets? To what extent, do you think, such purchases can affect the balance of power with Iran?
A: A review of military purchases by countries along the southern rim of the Persian Gulf, especially two countries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as two major regional rivals of Iran, will show that they have been going through a specific course during the past two years.
Due to the perception of threat that these two countries have, as a first step, they have bought weapons, which in their view could be used to contain and foil those weapons that their possible enemy or rival, that is, Iran, could use in a possible war in the Persian Gulf. Since Iran enjoys a remarkable arsenal of diverse types of missiles, these two countries have started to purchase missile defense systems.
The United Arab Emirates has quite recently purchased the American missile defense system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense).
At the same time, Saudi Arabia has not only bought THAAD from the United States, but has also purchased more PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) missile batteries from Washington. In addition, with regard to naval force, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been purchasing special vessels highly capable of carrying out anti-aircraft and anti-submarine operations. There are even reports about Saudi Arabia planning to buy submarines.
These developments prove that these two countries are trying to create some sort of power balance in the face of Iran’s weapons. However, a more important point that must be taken into account here is the issue of offensive weaponry that Saudis and Emiratis have sought to acquire. To be more specific, the United Arab Emirates has developed a daunting strike force by purchasing more than 80 F-16 E/F Block 60 fighter jets worth 1.5 billion dollars. Saudis have also purchased a remarkable number of F-15SA Strike Eagle jets in addition to Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles and various kinds of bunker buster bombs and guided missiles to show that in any form of possible conflict with Iran in the future, they will be able to mount attacks on sensitive points in Iran, including military bases, ports, airports and other installations through aerial raids, especially remotely-controlled ones.
As for reports about the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia purchasing F-35 jet fighters, I must note that during past years, Iran has launched an extensive effort to create and expand an integrated air defense and missile launch network. In doing this, the country has deployed radar systems, which are capable of detecting and intercepting even stealth jets like F-35 within an acceptable range.
Now, we must wait and see what will happen in practice in the future. However, it is certain that purchasing such a fifth-generation fighter jet as F-35 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can cause changes in aerial balance of power across the region. It is natural for such issues to cause concern in Tehran about the goals and intentions of these countries. Of course, Iran’s deterrence capability has given the country remarkable strike force to counter any attack. That capability depends not only on the country’s missile power, but also exists in the naval force, where Iran has gained an asymmetrical naval capability on the strength of its anti-ship missiles, speedboats, naval mines, flying boats, Ghadir class Midjet submarines and many other naval equipment. In view of such facts, it does not seem that these countries would initially think about attacking Iran. However, a review of the trend taken by these countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to bolster their weaponry and defense capabilities shows that they are organizing their defense arrangement in such a way as not only to have extended defense capability at three air, land and marine levels, but also to have vast offensive capability.
Q: Do you think that continuation of Mohammed bin Salman’s policies in Saudi Arabia will increase the possibility of military confrontation between this country and Iran?
A: The possibility of a military encounter between Saudi Arabia and Iran is very low, at least, at the present time. However, it is predictable that these two countries will have many clashes with each other across the region using their proxy groups or through proxy wars.
One of the most important arenas for this encounter is certainly Yemen where we witnessed that after Houthi fighters launched their latest ballistic missile, the government in Riyadh announced that from their viewpoint this was a direct attack by Iran on Saudi Arabia. Riyadh also alleged that ballistic missiles were supplied to Yemen’s Houthi fighters by Iran. Despite these developments, the possibility of a direct conflict between the two countries is very low. Of course, in case of deployment of their forces, especially in the air and sea, some limited conflicts between the two sides are possible to occur.
Q: In your opinion, what options are available to the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to reduce tensions in the region?
A: Of course, I must emphasize that reduction of tensions is a bilateral issue and no country alone has been ever able to do this on its own. The first requisite for doing this is goodwill on both sides and their ability to reach the conclusion that it is necessary to reduce tensions. In the next step, they can negotiate issues of difference through diplomatic talks or direct and indirect political consultations in a bid to achieve some form of dispute settlement.
However, at the present juncture and in view of the performance of the ruling team in Saudi Arabia, especially considering the personality of Mohammed bin Salman, we see that it is Saudi Arabia, which is playing a more aggressive role in the region. The reality, which must not be forgotten, is that Iran was trying to maintain the status quo in Syria and had no excessive demands.
That is, Iran, in fact, aimed to preserve one of its important regional allies and it must be noted that before the beginning of conflicts in Syria, Hezbollah had a strong standing in Lebanon. Therefore, it was, in fact, the Western-minded front in the region, which was pursuing the goal of the collapse of Bashar Assad’s government in Syria.
Alternatively, they aimed to help Takfiri groups infiltrate into northern Lebanon and along the country’s border with Syria in order to make Hezbollah engage in an extensive war with them. Also in Iraq, they wanted to totally change the balance of power in their own favor through their proxy groups, especially Daesh. At any rate, at the present time and in view of the policy and strategy that the administration of US President Donald Trump has adopted toward this region, it is clear that he has been making an effort to politicize the United States’ foreign trade and, in fact, has entered a major deal with the government in Riyadh.
Within framework of this big deal, Riyadh has actually paid of Washington’s support. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that the Zionist regime is not satisfied with the current situation in the region. On the whole, we can reach the conclusion that the triangle made up of the United States, the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia is apparently planning some sort of all-out political, diplomatic, security, military and economic onslaught against the resistance front in the Middle East and at least for the time being, the focus is on Yemen and Lebanon.
In the meantime, Americans will try to maintain a foothold in northern part of Syria under the pretext of fighting Daesh to support the country’s Kurds. It is not difficult to guess that when Mohammed bin Salman becomes official king of Saudi Arabia, this country will follow a more aggressive policy toward Yemen. This issue can lead to intensified confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, at least, in the Arabian Peninsula.
In addition, Iran will never allow Hezbollah movement, as one of its chief allies in the region, to collapse or be attacked by Israel or any military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.