ANALYSIS: How Israel and the US are working to contain Iran

Iranian efforts to expand militarily in Iraq and Syria face fierce opposition from Israel and the US.

Yochanan Visser ,

Israel-Lebanon border
Israel-Lebanon border
Hadas Parush/Flash90

With all eyes on the tensed situation on Israel’s northern border where Hezbollah already tried to perform a new incursion into Israeli territory near the Har Dov region between Metulla and Mount Hermon, one should take a look at the wider picture in the largely covert war against Iran.

Let’s start with the current tense situation between Israel and Hezbollah.

The escalation started on Monday, June 20th when three Israeli Apache attack helicopters and four warplanes of the Israeli Air Force carried out fresh attacks against Iran-related targets in the vicinity of Damascus and the border region on the Golan Heights.

The attacks started between 10:30 PM and 11:00 PM and destroyed an ammunition depot belonging to the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) near Damascus International Airport according to local media.

In the area of Kuneitra on the Syrian Golan Heights IAF Apache helicopters attacked several observation posts and intelligence gathering facilities belonging to the Quds Force killing five Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militia operatives among them Hezbollah member Ali Kamel Mohsen.

Pundits in Israel think the attack on the IRGC depot near Damascus could have destroyed the Iranian Khordad-3 anti-aircraft missile system, an equivalent of the Russian BUK anti-aircraft missile system.

The Iranians wanted to deploy the Khordad-3 batteries in Syria to make it far more difficult for the IAF to carry out airstrikes against the Iran-led coalition of Shiite militias in the country.

Russia earlier delivered the S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to the Syrian army, but Syrian soldiers are not operating the system. Instead, Russian officers operate it, making it useless against the IAF since Russian President Vladimir Putin reached certain understandings with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on the war against Iran in Syria.

After news broke that a Hezbollah terrorist was killed during the raid on Kuneitra the Lebanese terror group started to issue warnings that a retaliatory attack was in the making.

The threats were taken seriously by the Israeli military (IDF) and a military build-up began in northern Israel and on the Golan Heights with the IDF closing roads for civilian traffic and ordering a halt to jeep patrols along the security fence to avoid Hezbollah attacks with anti-tank Kornet missiles.

At the same time, Israel sent messages to Hezbollah via foreign diplomats that it wasn’t interested in a new war with the terror organization but also issued warnings that it would respond with “great force” if Hezbollah ignored the warning.

It only partly helped, since on Friday afternoon mortar shells were fired into Israel near the Druze village of Majdal Shams causing damage to an Israeli car. A couple of hours later the IAF again attacked Iran-related targets along the Syrian border on the Golan Heights.

The Israeli military now knew that Hezbollah would again retaliate and waited for a new attack which seemed to occur on Monday afternoon when a group of 4 to 5 Hezbollah terrorists made an incursion into Israeli territory near Har Dov that the Lebanese terror group claims to be part of Lebanon.

With the group terrorists in its sights the IDF Central Northern Command decided to fire with tanks and light weapons at the area where the group entered Israel but made sure nobody would be hit after which the squad retreated to Lebanese territory.

Hezbollah later denied any incident had taken place in the Har Dov region and by doing this made clear that the retaliation for the killing of Mohsen still could be expected.

The IDF, from its side, decided to stay in high-alert mode and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a warning to the Lebanese government saying that Lebanon as a whole would be held responsible for any attack on Israel.

It remains to be seen if a new war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah will break out because both sides give the impression that they will not cross the other party’s red lines.

This all happened before, during and, after an unexpected visit to Israel by General Mark Milley from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on the Netavim airbase last Friday to discuss “regional issues”.

What are these “regional issues”? They can be summed up in one word: Iran.

Not only the Israeli military is trying to stop the Iranian drive to take over the Middle East the US army is doing its part too.

In both east Syria and Iraq the US army is making efforts to deliver blows to the Iranian project and is engaged in psychological warfare.

Take for example what happened near the American base al-Tanf in eastern Syria last Friday. The al-Tanf base is of strategic importance in the battle to stop Iran from taking over eastern Syria since it is located near the highway to Damascus.

US Air Force (USAF) F-15 warplanes intercepted a civilian airplane from the Iranian company Mahan which despite a 55-mile no-fly zone was flying right over the al-Tanf base.

Mahan is, in fact, a part of the IRGC and its planes are often used to transfer weapons to Damascus Airport and to Beirut in Lebanon. The company is banned by several Western countries for its involvement in terrorism.

After the pilots of the Mahan plane discovered that the American F-15 jets were trying to visually inspect the plane’s underbelly they sharply lowered the altitude of the jet causing injuries among its passengers.

Media later reported that the pilots did this to prevent the USAF planes from inspecting the underside of the plane which most likely had high-resolution cameras on it.

Iran responded on Wednesday by releasing high-resolution satellite images of the largest US base in the Middle East, the Al-Udeid Air Base, the headquarters of the US army’s Central Command in Qatar.

Earlier, American drones targeted bases of Iranian-founded and supported Shiite militias in Iraq.

A video that was released after the strikes suggested the drones attacked the base of the al-Hashed militia near Dura in the Bagdad region.

Here too, the Iranians responded in their classic way they ordered their proxies in Iraq to attack a base housing US soldiers with crude rockets on Monday evening.

The American response came swiftly.

Kurdish media later reported that the military base Speicher camp in Salahaddin province was attacked by unknown forces. The base is in use by the Hashd al-Sha’abi organization of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq.

This was later followed by a new Iranian provocation in the Strait of Hormuz when during a massive IRGC drill ballistic missiles from underground silos were launched in the direction of a fake Iranian aircraft carrier sized 200 by 50 meters. The fake aircraft carrier was towed to the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week.