Tehran’s calculated silence over Israeli strikes in Lebanon
Iran has been strangely silent about Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Recent attacks were directed at important targets and are clear signs of an Israeli campaign aimed at eliminating Iran’s influence in Syria. There is no doubt the attacks were cleared by Russia and the United States.
Israel carried out air strikes on three consecutive days. The first was on a major military base at Al-Kiswah near Damascus. It was reported that the area is larger than Beirut and that there were scores of Iranian military casualties.
The second strike was against Dumayr Airbase, targeting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other pro-Iranian military forces. The third strike hit the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Jamraya.
The attacks, which certainly will not be the last, are indicative of an international consensus that Iran’s military presence in Syria will not be accepted.
Iran is clearly worried about this turn of events against its presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Its calculated silence shows its apprehension of collusion between Tel Aviv, Washington, Moscow and other European capitals to put the Iranian file on the agenda of the coming Middle East settlements.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for disbanding the pro-Iranian militias of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking to free the Iraqi government from the dominance of the militias — meaning from Iran’s dominance.
US and Russian military bases are mushrooming in Syria and Iran suspects that the countries are working together to leave Tehran out of any settlement in Syria. Washington has announced its intention to remain in Iraq and Syria. Any tacit arrangement between the superpowers for their presence in the region must include a total reduction of Iranian presence there. Israel was in charge of delivering that message.
Iran’s silence on Israel’s attacks becomes all the more intriguing considering Tehran’s clamour on anything connected to its influence in Yemen. Perhaps Tehran realises that a meltdown of its influence in far-away Yemen is a harbinger of worse fates in nearby zones of influence, so it must be prevented.
Iran’s silence on Syria might be a malicious tactic but the situation in Yemen cannot tolerate such a strategy. Any threat to the Houthis in Yemen must be dealt with immediately and radically.
Thus, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was assassinated December 4, and his allies had to be eliminated.
Tehran knows that, were it not for the alliance between Saleh and the Houthis, the latter could not have spilt out of their Saada fiefdom in northern Yemen and spread across Yemen. Saleh had waged six wars on the Houthis when he was president but, once he was ousted, the Machiavellian former enemy turned into an ally.
Iran had blessed the alliance even though it hated Saleh. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Saleh supported Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Iran had always wanted a foothold next to Saudi Arabia and, believing the end justified the means, Tehran felt a temporary alliance with Saleh was worth it. Once that goal was achieved, the means could be dispensed with.
Iran was definitely behind Saleh’s assassination. The Houthis wouldn’t have dared do it without Tehran’s blessing. Besides, Iran had to act quickly to deflect attention from the situation in Syria and, more importantly, to prevent a turn of events that would strike a decisive blow to its strategic influence in Yemen. The Houthi militias had to regain the initiative on the field and, by eliminating Saleh and his party’s leadership, they wanted to terrorise any lurking threat to their dominance.
Iran knows that the battle in Yemen is far from being over. The same is true for conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The difference, however, is that, in Yemen, Tehran has more leeway to manoeuvre and force the rest of the world to acknowledge its presence, simply by being a threat to security in the Gulf as well as to the security of international maritime routes.
For Tehran, becoming familiar with the details of Sana’a and its surroundings is not as important as ensuring its ability to launch missiles towards Saudi Arabia. It has done it before and will continue to threaten to do it again until Riyadh and the rest of the world accept Iran as a major player in the negotiations on Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Iranian General Mohammad Ali Jafari, IRGC commander, was all talk about thwarting a coup in Yemen and Iranian President Hassan Rohani was abuzz about scoring a great victory against the “aggressors” of Yemen. In the meantime, reports piled up of scores of Iranian casualties in Iranian bases in Syria targeted in Israeli attacks. However, nobody in Tehran is talking about retaliating against the “aggressors.”