Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to call on the Trump administration to join with Israel to stand up to the dangerous Islamic extremist government of Iran.
It’s in our mutual self-interest for America and Israel to join together against Iran, which seeks regional dominance and is an avowed enemy of both our nations. Our first step should be to effectively eliminate the Iranian threat from war-ravaged Syria.
President Trump’s recent comments that our mission in Syria is “getting rid of ISIS and going home” risk creating a power vacuum that Iran will exploit. If that happens, the Trump administration will be making the same mistakes President Obama made in allowing the Syrian conflict to escalate – creating the conditions that allowed ISIS to rise in the first place.
A recent incident that encapsulates the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran that are playing out in the Syrian civil war. As Fox News exclusively reported, new satellite photos reveal that Iran has established another permanent military base in Syria that houses hangers used to store missiles capable of hitting all of Israel.
Earlier this year, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) shot down an Iranian drone that was sent by Iran from Syria into Israeli airspace. The IDF then undertook a mission to strike Iranian drone installations in Syria, losing an F-16 fighter jet to Syrian fire in the process.
Many fear that this incident is only the beginning of an inevitable escalation of hostilities between major players in the region, which could eventually have implications for American involvement. Some military experts worry that Israel’s strong response will open up a new front between Iran and Israel, and indirectly the U.S. – especially as Tehran increases its military presence in Syria.
The reality is, though, that the United States is already involved by means of our existing military assistance agreement with Israel, our closest ally in the region. The question becomes: How do we ensure that our military qualitative-edge is protected in the proxy conflicts roiling the Middle East, while giving strong support to our Israeli ally in the region?
The loss of the F-16 fighter jet took place during Israel’s most extensive bombing of Syria since 1982 and it was the first loss of an Israeli aircraft in more than 30 years. This incident was an outlier, to be sure, but as a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, I believe it’s important and possible to simultaneously protect our intelligence while supporting our allies.
The United States is under a 10-year military assistance agreement with Israel that promises $38 billion in aid to equip Israel with the necessary tools to defend itself. The White House has called on Iran to stop its provocative actions, while reiterating its support of Israel’s right to defend itself.
With growing conflict in the Middle East, Israel will be looking to the U.S. for more aid than ever before. And as a reliable ally, the U.S. should readily back Israel in its efforts to dispel the increasing tensions.
While Israel had been relatively silent in Syria’s civil war, it has increasingly hit military sites as of late in fear of an expanded Iranian presence at its border. Israeli officials have accused Iran of exploiting the chaos of the Syrian civil war to build up its military assets, including building precision weapons factories in Lebanon and Syria, and creating an infrastructure that threatens Israel by training and equipping fighters.
Iran has adamantly denied setting up military bases in Syria, but intelligence shows tactical advisers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are deployed at military bases across the country and frequently appear on the front lines to lead battles. Additionally, in response to Israel, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group said the confrontation has marked the beginning of a “new strategic phase.”
The loss of the F-16 fighter jet is worrisome because the Iranian drone that was shot down was found by Israeli officials to be a direct copy of a U.S. military stealth craft that Iran had captured in 2011 and had unveiled its own version of in 2016. In only a short amount of time, Iran has managed to crudely copy and reverse-engineer American military technology to be used against the U.S. and its allies. Iranian intelligence was able to make a copy of a drone. Is the F-16 next?
U.S. military forces have also supplied Israel with several F-35s, one of the most advanced stealth fighters in the world. Israel declared its F-35s operational in December 2017. With nine already in hand and a total of 50 expected by 2024, these fighters will be critical in providing Israeli air dominance in the region for the next four decades.
Moscow has already deployed a prototype of its advanced stealth aircraft, the Su-57, to its Khmeimim air base in Syria. This aircraft attempts to rival the F-35 in its capabilities. If even one F-35 goes down, the wreckage instantly becomes some of the most valuable military intelligence prizes in the world – and could easily be packed up and sent to Iran, or even Russia and China, and copied just like the drone was.
The best way to secure our intelligence and military capabilities is to continue replacing Israeli combat losses. It sends an important symbolic message that Israel is backed by the strongest military in the world and that the U.S. stands with its allies. But we need to do so in a way that does not compromise U.S. and Israeli military advantages.