Israeli Army Sees Chance to Escalate Attacks Against Iran and Its Allies

>> UPDATE: Three said killed in Israeli strike on Iranian base in Syria

The bottom line of the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence assessment for 2020 isn’t significantly different than it was the previous two years. The likelihood of anyone intentionally starting a war against Israel remains low (in recent years, Military Intelligence has freed itself of the taboo created by the 1973 Yom Kippur War and is willing to say that explicitly). But MI sees a medium to high probability of an unplanned slide into war due to escalating reciprocal strikes.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56Haaretz

What’s new in this assessment lies in two reservations. First, Military Intelligence admits that given the current pace of events in the region, and especially how quickly escalations can develop, it’s impossible to provide a precise forecast. At most, it can identify general trends.

Second, its ability to make predictions is particularly limited regarding how the people will act in neighboring countries and their economic plight. This was illustrated, for example, by recent fluctuations in the protests in Iran, and by the fact that earlier predictions of an economic collapse in Syria proved false, as, to some extent, did similar predictions about Iran.

Military Intelligence defines the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the shock waves it caused, as the most dramatic event in the region so far this year. It was preceded by two important developments in Iran last year – intensified American sanctions in May, which prompted a series of Iranian attacks aimed mainly at the Gulf states’ oil industry, and the incidents between Iran and its agents and Israeli forces on the Syrian and Lebanese borders in August and September.

Military Intelligence describes Soleimani’s death as a “formative blow” that’s expected to have a significant impact on the region. The Trump administration surprised the Iranians with its willingness to kill Soleimani, who commanded the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, and this bolstered American deterrence against Iran.

Iran’s leaders can now expect a year of tough decisions. Should they continue their gradually escalating violations of the nuclear agreement, which risks provoking Europe to follow America’s lead and quit the deal? Should they continue Soleimani’s legacy of consolidating the region’s Shi’ite axis by setting up military bases in Syria and smuggling advanced arms to Lebanon, even at the price of a growing risk of direct conflict with Israel? And how should they address their enormous budget deficit when sanctions on their oil industry have deprived them of their main revenue source?