Beating Back Iranian Aggression by Supporting Israel

With the bloody battle for northwestern Syria underway, the media is focused again on chemical weapons. However important, the larger moral and strategic issue is the murderous Bashar Assad regime’s drive to reconquer all of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran. This will mean an expansion of Iranian influence and increased risk of a significant Israeli-Iranian war and regional destabilization.

With the Trump administration reluctant to push back directly against Assad, it should bolster security assistance for our close ally Israel that has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to stymie if not roll back Iran, thereby advancing regional stability and U.S. interests.

Iran’s help has kept Assad on the throne, and he is now repaying his debts by giving Tehran the keys to his kingdom. Much like Lebanon now, Syria appears poised to become a forward operating base for the world’s chief terrorism sponsor and a beachhead for future Iranian operations against Israel and likely trigger for a significant war.

Ousting Iranian forces from Syria is critical to preventing a broader conflagration that might require yet another costly U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. The United States has roughly 2,000 Special Forces in Syria, and ample airpower throughout the region, but the Trump Administration is reluctant to utilize these assets against Iranian expansion. Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly wants Iran out of Syria but protests, “I can’t do it myself.”

That leaves it to Israel, which this year ramped up its efforts to degrade Iran’s and Hezbollah’s assets in Syria. It remains committed to preventing both a permanent Iranian presence in the country and advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah and other proxies, raising the specter of a broader conflict encompassing not only Syria but also Lebanon and possibly Iraq and Iran itself.

The two could also come to blows over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials are threatening to accelerate.

The United States should gird Israel for a likely major war with Iran and its proxies.

In a report released this May by the U.S.-Israel Security Task Force at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), we explain how Israel defends America’s interests in the region by defending itself, and consequently the steps Washington should take to bolster Israel’s ability to confront Iran and other regional challenges.

Since our report was issued, Congress has taken laudable steps toward this goal. The recently-enacted National Defense Authorization Act, and a U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization bill that passed the Senate and appears poised to clear the House of Representatives, both direct a number of the measures we recommended. But much more must be done.

U.S. law requires America to uphold Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (QME) which ensures it can counter real or potential threats at acceptable cost. A 2016 memorandum of understanding (MoU) to provide Israel $38 billion in defense assistance, spaced evenly over ten years, is a key pillar of QME. But Israel needs an acceleration of this assistance amid the intensifying threat from Iran and its proxies. American policymakers must prepare to frontload the assistance contemplated under the MoU, without adding one cent to it.

This could provide Israel with critical capabilities more readily, including additional F-35 squadrons, KC-46 air refueling tankers, mobility and transport aircraft, GBU-39, GBU-53/B and Hellfire precision munitions, JDAM kits for unguided bombs, UAVs and semi-submersible naval vessels. The United States should also replenish precision munitions and other vital stockpiles of prepositioned war materiel in Israel, and consider making Israel a prepositioning base to support operations regionwide.

The United States and Israel should also explore a mutual defense treaty to deter an extraordinary conflict, including potentially with Iran, that could threaten Israel’s strategic and economic viability.

America should elevate Israel’s status. Despite being one of America’s closest security partners, Israel shares its current “major non-NATO ally” status with Tunisia and Afghanistan, among others. Instead, the United States should largely treat Israel as it does Britain and Australia. We recommend President Trump issue an executive order creating a presumption of approval for sharing with Israel information, military equipment and technology, and treat Israel effectively as part of the “Five Eyes” agreement on signals intelligence cooperation.

Finally, using the shared costs and benefits of the Arrow missile defense program as a model, the United States and Israel should explore areas for joint research and development of military technology to confront Iranian aggression, including directed energy and hypersonic weapons, hyperspectral military satellites, cyber operations, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles and counter-hybrid warfare, including special and maritime operations, particularly littoral defense of critical infrastructure.

The Trump administration has explicitly adopted President Ronald Reagan’s strategy of “peace through strength.” Restoring peace to a Middle East destabilized and constantly endangered by Iranian aggression will require strengthening America’s main ally in the region: Israel.

This op-ed was originally published in NY Daily News on September 25, 2018