ANALYSIS: Iranian threat puts Israeli-Russia relations on track

The Iranians want to transform Syria into a proxy state based on the Lebanese model and this flies in the face of Russian aspirations.

Tags: Iran Russia Syria
Yochanan Visser ,

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Israel Bnyamin Netanyahu
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Israel Bnyamin Netanyahu

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow where he had a long-awaited meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the top of the agenda was the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the continued military build-up by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria and Lebanon.

After the discussion between Putin and Netanyahu's team, it became clear that relations between Israel and Russia were back to the level they had been before the crisis over a downed Russian reconnaissance aircraft in September 2018.

At the time, the Russians accused the Israeli Air Force (IAF) of causing the IL-20 plane crash in which 15 Russian soldiers were killed, something that has vehemently been denied by Israel.

The political crisis that arose after the Syrian downing of the Russian plane limited the IAF in actions against Iran-related targets in Syria.

Instead of attacking ever deeper into Syria, the IAF was now forced to carry out aerial actions against Iran in the war-torn country from Lebanese airspace.

As I reported earlier this week, Iran is constantly increasing its war rhetoric against Israel and claims that the IAF has effectively failed to stop the military build-up of the IRGC's Quds Force in Syria.

Israel, for its part, is also preparing for a multiple-front war against Iran and its allies Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Syrian-stationed Golan Liberation Brigade founded in 2018 by Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Quds Brigade.

The IDF recently held an unexpected major drill on the Golan Heights and last week it was revealed that Rafael Defense Systems in Israel has developed a high-precision missile that can destroy targets deep in the ground.

This is of great significance when we look at how Iran and Hezbollah are preparing for a future war against Israel.

Aided by Iran, Hezbollah has built underground missile silos and factories for the upgrading of existing missiles in Lebanon.

The same is happening in Syria where Iran has constructed underground military facilities with the help of Hezbollah, especially in western and northern Syria.

Prime Minister Netanyahu recently claimed that Israel has succeeded in forcing Hezbollah to close some of these facilities and that the Iran-sponsored and trained Lebanese terror group is in the possession a few dozen guided missiles only.

Iran, however, does not give up and continues trying to smuggle the necessary components and equipment for upgrading existing Hezbollah missiles to Lebanon.

Israel is extremely worried about this development because the conversion of existing missiles such as the Zelzal-2 and the Zelzal-3 will mean that Hezbollah gets the ability to perform precision attacks on strategic targets such as the IDF headquarters in the center of Tel Aviv.

A few months ago it became clear that the Islamic Republic uses civilian aircraft to transport weapons directly to Beirut International Airport.

Last week, reports came in showing Iran is smuggling the necessary GPS equipment for transforming missiles via suitcases on civilian flights to Lebanon.

The GPS kits are relatively small making the delivery to Hezbollah virtually without risk because the IAF will not carry out attacks on civil aircraft or civilian airports to make that delivery impossible.

The GPS equipment enables Iran and Hezbollah to convert 14,000 Zelzal-2 and 3 missiles into precision weapons. Hezbollah’s missile arsenal is estimated on 140,000 projectiles, among them also Scud rockets.

Upgrading the Zelzal rockets takes no more than a few hours and then the missile has the ability to hit a target with precision and an average margin of error at hitting its target lower than five meters.

The upgrade costs no more than between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars per rocket, a fraction of the price of a new GPS guided missile.

Iran and Hizbollah use GPS systems and the Russian GLONASS guidance system to transform the Zelzal missiles into so-called Fateh 110 missiles, a precision missile with a range of 300 kilometers -enough to bring the nuclear reactor in Dimona in southern Israel within the reach of Hezbollah.

The Fateh 110 is a solid-fuel missile on a mobile launcher and has a warhead of 500 kilos while the rocket is able to destroy an entire building.

The fact that the IDF military headquarters is located in the center of Tel Aviv puts the population of the city at great risk if Hezbollah uses Fateh 110 missiles in a future war.

While Israel is in the possession of ultra-modern anti-missile shields such as the Arrow, Iron Dome, and David Sling, it is expected that these systems will not be able to provide optimal protection in the event of a multi-front missile war.

During such a war the IDF will have to take into account hundreds of missile attacks per day from three fronts: Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon.

Israel will continue its attacks on Iran-related targets in Syria, Netanyahu told Putin on Wednesday, and the Russian President apparently does not object curbing Iran in Syria any longer.

After all, Putin decided to intervene in Syria to protect Russian interests in Syria, such as preserving the only naval base outside Russian territory (Tartus) and restoring Russian influence in the Middle East.

The Iranians are working to transform Syria into a proxy state based on the Lebanese model and this flies in the face of Russian aspirations.

We can now expect that the IAF will again use Syrian airspace to stop the Iranian entrenchment in the country which is still going on, as was shown by an analysis from Chatham House this week.

The Iranians make use of the chaotic situation in eastern Syria in particular and have stationed Shiite militias on the border with Iraq and west of the Euphrates River.

They are also recruiting local Sunni tribes and clans to do their dirty work and are filling the vacuum left behind by ISIS, which is currently losing its last stronghold in Syria and earlier lost control over the strategically important Province Deir al-Zur.

The Deir Ez-Zur Province is the best place to deal with Iran, the Chatham analysts wrote.

Israel has already carried out attacks on Iranian targets in Deir Ez-Zur and the Trump Administration this week once again retreated from its intention to withdraw all US troops from Syria when it made clear that a contingent US Special Forces at the At-Tanf base on the Iraqi Syrian border in the Deir Ez-Zur would remain.