Israel is increasingly concerned about the Iranians installing a military force in the Golan Heights along Israel’s border. Under the former administration of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israelis conducted countless airstrikes against Iranian proxy militias near the Golan.
Now, the new administration of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the Iranian plans continue, as Bennett warned Tehran against further troop entrenchments.
In remarks at the Makor Rishon newspaper conference, Bennett stated, “The Golan Heights is Israel, period.” Bennett’s comment illustrates the strategic continuity between his and the former government of Benjamin Netanjahu.
During the 1967 war, Israel seized the strategic Golan Heights that border Syria and Jordan. The Israeli government vowed never to give the region up again since it dominates the border areas.
Iranian proxies in Syria are, “striving to establish another army on the border of the Golan Heights. We will continue to act where needed, and when needed, proactively and on a daily basis, so that the Iranian presence in Syria folds. They have no business being there,” Bennett added. “Their adventurism on our northern border needs to end.”
Iran Ready to Sacrifice Syrians to Achieve its Goal
On the Syrian side of the border, chaos and fighting continue due to the Syrian civil war.
Forces loyal to the Assad regime, anti-Assad opposition groups, pro-Iran and Hezbollah proxies, and others are all fighting each other, vying for control of the area. Occasional fire crosses the border into Israel.
Iran has made it clear that the Golan is their strategic objective in the area, and is quite willing to sacrifice the proxy militias run by its Quds Force to do so.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told the Syrian foreign minister in late October 2020 that Iran “supports the resistance” to retake the Golan Heights from Israel. In other words, Iran is willing to use Syrian lives to support its aim of placing troops on Israel’s border.
Raisi said that Iran and Syria must work together to accelerate the “demise of the fake Israeli regime” stating that all “occupied areas must be liberated.”
The accomplishment of Iran’s aims has accelerated due to recent events.
Iran Perceives an Opportunity
Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the Iranian government senses weakness in Washington.
There is the perception that the regional order is failing, after the electoral defeats of Trump and Netanyahu, and that the U.S. is retreating from the Middle East. Tehran perceives the Biden administration as weak and is using the fact that Biden wants to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump withdrew from, as a tool to string Washington along.
Former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the Jerusalem Post Conference. He stated that “American appeasement” was emboldening Iran and forcing Israel into an untenable position.
“[The Trump administration] [was] never going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon on our watch,” Pompeo said.
Across the Middle East, Iran is trying to assert its power across several fronts. The Golan Heights are a prime target. Israel, however, isn’t budging, as Bennett’s comments demonstrate.
A Rejuvenation of the Golan Heights?
There are no civilians left on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights today. Only empty houses and buildings with armed fighters battling for territory and influence remain. Syrian civilian proxy forces, some of whom attack Israeli targets, are paid $30 per month by Iran and Hezbollah.
“We will continue to act wherever and whenever necessary, at our initiative, and on a daily basis, in order to roll up the Iranian presence in Syria. They have nothing to look for there,” Bennett said.
“Their adventure on our northern border needs to end. Thus, we will ensure not only the peace of the residents of the Golan Heights but of all citizens of Israel,” he added.
Bennett stated that Israel’s position on the Golan has nothing to do with the ongoing Syrian civil war but has everything to do with Israel’s sovereignty. He said that the Israeli government was working on a plan that would quadruple the current population and change the face of the Golan Heights.
“In six weeks, the government will approve a national plan for the Golan Heights that will include the creation of two new communities and investment in development, infrastructure, business, and renewable energy,” Bennett specified.
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