After a few years in which the threats to Israel’s security had eased somewhat, recent events have taken a turn for the worse. To its north, Israel faces a joint Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that is growing more powerful and confident, as President Bashar al-Assad re-establishes control in Syria backed by a strong Russian presence.
Assad, whose regime has waged a brutal six-year civil war that has killed half a million Syrians and displaced some two-thirds of the country’s population, has successfully withstood all internal and external pressures, including American demands that he step down, and is now securely ensconced in power in Damascus. The deployment of just a limited number of Russian aircraft to Syria three years ago, at virtually no cost in Russian lives—coming on top of efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to prop up the regime—effectively turned the tide of battle and saved Assad from defeat. In so doing, Russia exposed the Obama administration’s specious warnings of a Syrian “quagmire” that no military intervention—even a limited one, such as establishing no-fly zones—could resolve. Syria, in effect, has become a highly unusual hybrid, both a Russian client state and Iranian forward outpost.
Iran is reportedly now seeking to establish air and naval bases in Syria, and possibly even to deploy significant ground forces to the country. At the same time, Iran has continued to build up Hezbollah’s vast arsenal of rockets, estimated to total between 100,000 and 130,000. Whenever the next round of fighting comes with Israel, Hezbollah could cause unprecedented devastation to Israel’s home front. Moreover, Hezbollah is now increasingly armed with precision-guided rockets from Iran, which would be capable of hitting not just Israeli population centers, as in the past, but specific, critical targets. Essential infrastructure, such as power plants and communications systems, and strategic sites, such as airbases and even the prime minister’s office, could be at risk.