Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western Journalism.com in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authoreda book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva.
Last week, during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C. U.S. President Donald Trump outlined his national security strategy, which had been published the same day.
In a sharp break from Obama’s refusal to even use the term ‘Islamic extremism’ the 68-page document used the terms ‘Jihad’ and “Jihadists’ no less than 27 times, and also briefly addressed Iran’s malignant behavior in the Middle East and beyond.
The document listed Iran’s “malign activities” in the region and blasted again the “incomprehensibly bad deal”, the Obama Administration’ brokered nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, It called the Islamic Republic the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world.
“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence through partners and proxies, weapon proliferation, and funding,” the document stated.
According to the Trump Administration, Iran “continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles and intelligence capabilities, and it undertakes malicious cyber activities.”
Trump’s new national security strategy did away with the old canard that the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict was the main reason for war and instability in the Middle East and instead said that Iran and the threat posed by “Jihadist terror organizations” were to blame for the multiple problems in the region.
However, the new strategy stopped short of explaining how the United States would try to contain Iran’s growing “malign activities” in the Middle East and only mentioned the forming of new regional partnerships and the strengthening of existing ones as a means to counter the growing threat posed by the Islamic Republic.
“We will work with partners to deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon and neutralize malign Iranian influence,” the strategy document said.
The mentioning of the forming of new regional partnerships was without any doubt a reference to the cooperation between the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia in particular, and Israel, which last month - via energy minister Yuval Steinitz - confirmed the existence of high level contacts between these arch enemies.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, has been more specific about the Iranian threat to Israel.
“What we face is the prospect of Iran having a proxy army on the borders of Israel,” McMaster said recently but he too stopped short of outlining how the U.S. with only 2,000 soldiers on the ground in Syria would curb Iran’s creeping encroachment on Israel’s borders.
Already in November, The Institute of War wrote that “Iran continues to consolidate its presence along the Golan Heights through a network of proxy forces while retaining significant positions in Southern Syria,” warning this development "would eventually lead to an Israeli intervention in Syria."
Earlier, the Israeli government made clear any Iranian (proxy) presence along the Syrian border on the Golan Heights would be considered the crossing of a red line.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly told French president Emmanuel Macron that Israel has changed its approach to the situation in Syria and would consider Iran’s activities in the country as “a target”.
“Israel has tried up until now not to intervene in what is going on in Syria. But after the victory over Islamic State, the situation has changed because the pro-Iranian forces have taken control,” Netanyahu told Macron, adding that “from now on Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target.”
Netanyahu kept word and at the beginning of December the Israeli Air Force reportedly bombed an Iranian base 14 kilometers southwest of Damascus.
The base was meant to house Shiite fighters Iran has transferred to Syria according to the BBC which earlier published satellite images showing extensive construction activities at the site.
The Israeli action came on the heels of two other incidents in November when the IDF stopped Iranian-backed Shiite militias from setting up camp in the demilitarized zone at the slopes of Mount Hermon close to the Druze village of Khader Magdal Shams on the Golan Heights.
In both cases the IDF fired warning shots at the Shiite fighters in the demilitarized zone.
To understand the severity of the situation, one has to look at several other reports that were published in November and December.
First, in the middle of November Iran finally completed a land bridge that connects the Iranian border in Iraq with the Syrian Golan Heights and the Mediterranean Sea.
The plan to establish the land bridge was first revealed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the summer of 2016 and continued to make headlines when the Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias in Iraq filled the vacuum left behind by Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Secondly, Iran is building factories in Syria and Lebanon where it manufactures guided missiles and other precision ammunition to be used in a future conflict with Israel.
Third, the Wall Street Journal recently revealed that Iran has now a Shiite proxy force of 125,000 men in Syria, outnumbering the regular Syrian army and indicating that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has become a puppet of Tehran.
These forces take their orders from Qassem Soleimani, the brilliant commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC who has overseen virtually every major battle in Iraq and Syria, and are increasingly becoming the dominant force in both Syria and Iraq.
Last week, Hashd al-Shaabi fully deployed along the Syrian Iraqi border, officially to assist the Iraqi army, of which it has become an integral part at the end of 2016.
However, the fall of Kirkuk, conquered by Hashd al-Shaabi in November, already showed that Iran was taking over northern Iraq after the botched Kurdish attempt to finally attain an independent state and the defeat of the ISIS’ Caliphate during the same period.
Finally, and fourth, there was another incident which proved Iran is using its proxies to prepare for what it considers the final war against the Jewish state.
On December 9, Qais al-Khazali the commander of the extremist Iraqi Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous) was spotted in the area close to Fatima Gate near the most northern
Al-Khazali made no secret of the reason for his appearance so close to the Israeli border in Lebanon.
“I'm here with my brothers from Hezbollah, the Islamic resistance,” the Asaib Ahl al-Haq commander said, adding that he was pleased to announce “our full readiness to stand as one with the Lebanese people, with the Palestinian cause, in the face of the unjust Israeli occupation."
This occupation is “anti-Islam, anti-Arab, and anti-humanity, in the decisive Arab Muslim cause. And, inshallah, all goodness and blessings to the mujahideen all over the world,” al-Khazali claimed while predicting the “Islamic Resistance” would establish a “State of Allah’s Justice” instead of Israel.
The Asaib Ahl al-Haq commander sounded a lot like Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who said in November that the next war in the Middle East ‘will lead to the eradication of the Zionist regime.”
“The fate of the resistance front is interwoven and they all stand united and if Israel attacks a part of it, the other component of the front will help it,”J)afari said at the time.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei later doubled down on Jafari’s comments and vowed Iran will continue to assist those who are seeking the destruction of Israel.
“The key, towards overcoming the enemies of Islam, is Palestine, because the Front of Disbelief, Arrogance, and Zionism, occupying the Islamic country of Palestine, have made it their base for disrupting the security of countries within the region,” according to Khamenei.
The Iranian leader then called upon the Islamic Resistance to confront “the cancerous tumor of Israel.”