A former Israeli general has called for the UK to keep its military presence in Syria even after the Islamic State group has been defeated, in order to counter Iran’s influence on Israel’s border.
Brigadier General Michael Herzog, a visiting fellow with Middle East think-tank BICOM, urged both the US and UK to “establish a long-term military presence” to Israel’s north in a new report published this week.
In July this year Russian, American and Jordanian leaders agreed a “de-escalation zone” in southern Syria, an area bordering both Jordan and Israel. However the Israeli government rejected the three states’ agreement, arguing that it “implicitly accepts Iran’s design to fill the post-ISIS void”.
Herzog said Iran wanted to establish a land corridor stretching through Iraq and Syria and up to Lebanon, where its proxy militia Hezbollah is based, “to ultimately turn it into a military and terror front against Israel”.
He said: “Such a situation would amount to the creation of an Iranian sphere of direct influence in the heart of the Middle East and in dangerous proximity to Israel,” said Herzog in his report on southern Syria.
“Israeli planners now believe that in a future war with Hezbollah, Israel could face Syrian and Lebanese theatres as one front guided by a unified military logic.”
Israel’s director of military intelligence recently disclosed that Iran was building a series of underground factories in Lebanon in order to manufacture accurate rockets for Hezbollah, to be used in any future conflict with Israel.
Herzog said all this changing geopolitical scenery meant that Israel had “extended its ‘red lines’ in Syria”. Whereas once the IDF focused only on Hezbollah-bound weapons or Israel’s northern border, now Israeli planes reportedly bomb rocket and chemical weapons factories near Syria’s border with Turkey.
He concluded that the US and UK “should carefully consider if and how their existing military assets on the ground… could be used to block Iran’s plans, rather than withdrawing them following the defeat of ISIS”.
The UK is highly unlikely to extend its military mission in Syria beyond its parliamentary remit, to defeat Islamic State, but US President Donald Trump may be more inclined to extend his troops’ operations in an area now dominated by Russia.