The confrontation between Iran and Israel entered its final phase.
There is now direct confrontation between Israeli Armed Forces – Iranian Armed Forces.
The war through representatives has been superseded by the events.
To understand this evolution, a dispassionate analysis is necessary:
Both Israel and Iran are religious States, where the concept of self-identity, depends dominantly on religion.
Jewish religion is the oldest living religion and the precursor of both Christianity and Islam.
On the other hand, Iranian Shia religion, is a version of Islam, contested by Sunni Islam, to which belongs the majority of Muslims.
Jewish and hence Israeli national identity, depends solely on the Jewish religion. Historic tradition defines the area of Israel, which is geographically limited.
Iranian national identity, depends both on Shia Muslim religion, which is the power base of the present Theocratic society and the Empire tradition.
Historic tradition defines Iranian Area as that of an Empire, from the time of the Achaemenid Empire (530-330 BC). Ruling from the Balkans to North Africa and Central Asia, what was then known as Persia, was succeeded by the Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanid empires, fighting Romans and Byzantines, until its conversion from the Zoroastrian religion to Islam between the 10th and the 12th Century.
With the start of the 16th Century, the Safavids established Shia Islam as the official religion and ruled as an Empire until 1979, when the Islamic revolution transformed Iran to an Islamic Republic.
Both Countries, are aggressive but there are important differences in their Geostrategic approach.
Israel’s aggression is Security centered. Their geographic activity area that is historically defined as theirs, is limited to specific lands that became Arab lands after the forced diaspora of Jews by the Romans.
Subsequent wars defined the frontiers of the present Israeli State.
Iran’s aggression is unlimited geographically, based on both imperial and religious continuous expansion, linked with their desire of regional dominance.
Israel’s Strategy, in view of its small geographical area and limited population, is based on Agility; while Iran’s Strategy because of its large area and big population is based on Robustness.
The physical occupation of Israeli lands can happen much easier than that of Iran. Israel cannot afford to trade space for time.
Iran, having practically dominated most of Iraq and Syria, can use its religious ideological base to continue fighting away from its center. Moreover, it can afford both physically and culturally, a great number of human losses, either its own or those of its allies.
In contrast, Israel cannot afford substantial human losses neither physically nor culturally, fighting very near its center.
In addition, Iran can choose the area in which it decides to intervene away from its frontiers, as for example in Syria or Yemen, and to have a destabilizing influence through religious intervention, as for instance, in Bahrain.
The situation at present is as follows:
Iran, has extremely strong political influence, as well as, strong military presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. With the exception of Jordan, Iran has practically encircled Israel.
This advance of Iran that had already started, methodically and in a structured way immediately after the Second Iraq war, is reaching now critical mass.
The only, unfulfilled yet, geostrategic aim of Iran is to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
The Russians do not wish to allow Iran to reach the Mediterranean, through Syria, as this will diminish their own influence in the Syrian Government, which survived mainly through the Russian intervention.
Moreover, the Russians do not wish to endanger the only naval base they have in the Mediterranean, which is on the Syrian coast.
A parallel Iranian base on the Syrian coast would, potentially, create undesired upheavals, destabilizing the Russian foothold. It was just a few years ago where Russia had been forced to abandon, its Syrian base, which they later reestablished, following their dynamic military intervention in Syria.
This for Israel is a Casus Belli.
Russia cannot force Iran, its hybrid ally in Syria, to stop its extremely rapid expansion which now is degrading into opportunism.
Russia, however, is well placed to help prevent an outright war between Israel and Iran as the Putin to Netanyahu phone call, last February demonstrated. Russia has a strong reason to prevent a war in Syria between Israel and Iran, so as to consolidate its strong gains in the Area. To achieve this it needs to reach an understanding with the USA.
This Iranian expansion opportunity, is due mainly to the geopolitical void that the American lack of dynamic presence has created.
The American passive-aggressive posture and its tendency for disengagement from the whole area, was the main cause which created the opportunity for Iran to realize its long-established expansionist plans.
The future situation in the whole area hinges on the decision of the Trump Administration to either continue or scrap the Nuclear Agreement with Iran.
Obviously the Nuclear Agreement, per se, is not the contesting issue. If there is no agreement the Iranians will go ahead unchecked, building nuclear devices. In such eventuality, no one can predict the extent of the disastrous consequences.
The real issue is the limitation of the Iranian Hegemonism, in the Area.
The recent excessive rhetoric of Netanyahu regarding the Iranian Nuclear activities, influences the Trump Administration to a degree, further frustrating the Iranians. Moreover, the Trump Administration is heavily influenced by the Saudi Arabian fears of Iran’s efforts for domination in the Persian Gulf. All these, do not amount to a decisive factor for action.
The decisive factor, for the right action, will be the understanding that scrapping the Iranian Nuclear deal will most probably lead to an Iran-Israeli war in Syria, with unforeseen results.
While there is no doubt that Israel can most probably emerge tactically victorious, the Strategic situation is not in its favor.
To begin with, Israel must occupy, this time, a significant portion of Lebanon, confronting Hezbollah. That will cost a heavy initial blood price and subsequent continuous “blood, sweat and tears” to maintain the occupation which will become a military necessity.
The second and most dangerous evolution of such a war is that, Israel will have to face the numerous forces of Iran on the ground, in Lebanon or Syria, near its frontiers which will be not only a costly affair of human sacrifice but will also greatly destabilize the whole area.
Iran, which is economically weak and faces internal social challenges will need to expand the war on other fronts to counterbalance probable Israeli advances in Syria. Saudi Arabia is a case in point.
The principal hope of Israel, in such a case, is to involve heavily the United States, find Arab Allies, quell the certain internal Hamas uprisings and hope that the West will also check the Turkish expansionist ambitions, so that the fight will not degenerate into its Clausewitzian logical end.
All this, can be avoided if in the case of Iran’s Nuclear deal, a diplomatic solution of further negotiations can be found. Neither Macron nor Merkel succeeded in persuading President Trump to continue approving this deal as it is.
This will be extremely difficult diplomatically, with multilateral negotiations, given Iranian and others intransigence, but it is much more preferable than the alternative.