Sorry about the Syria strike, Iran. At least until the elections
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Analysis

Sorry about the Syria strike, Iran. At least until the elections

Why did Israel unofficially apologize to Iran for killing its general? Because Israeli leaders are skittish about an escalation of hostilities before March 17

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

IDF forces in the Golan Heights on January 20, 2015, two days after the attack on Syria in which several Hezbollah members were killed. (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)
IDF forces in the Golan Heights on January 20, 2015, two days after the attack on Syria in which several Hezbollah members were killed. (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)

Naftali Bennett’s ever-so-amusing campaign video, “Stop Apologizing,” seemed rather removed from reality this week in light of the profuse Israeli apologies over Sunday’s attack in the Syrian Golan Heights. At first, the Israel Hayom newspaper basked in pride over the operation by “our forces.’” On top of that, information leaked by “Western intelligence sources” was quoted extensively by Israeli media, talking about the murderous plans Jihad Mughniyeh, who was killed in the attack, had for Israel.

But then came the news that six Iranians, including a general, were also killed in the strike. This was followed by a mournful silence from official Israel, and on Tuesday an apology — to Israel’s greatest enemy, Iran, no less. A senior Israeli official was interviewed anonymously by Reuters and effectively said sorry; Israel had not intended to kill the Iranians and had not known they were in the convoy. Perhaps the official thought that his confession would generate compassion, even sympathy in the hearts of the Iranian ayatollahs.

It’s not clear who this senior Israeli official was and what authority he holds. But his attempt to calm things down in Tehran and among Hezbollah leaders seems sad, almost pathetic. If an Israeli general was struck during an Iranian attack on a Mujahideen Khalq convoy (a terrorist organization operating against the Iranian regime) on the Iraq-Iran border while he was on a lookout into Iranian territory, does anyone think that an Iranian representative would apologize?

This behavior reveals something about the pressure Israeli leaders are under and their fear of an escalation of hostilities on the eve of the elections, an escalation for which they themselves would be responsible.

Civilians and armed forces members carry the coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi in his funeral ceremony outside the Guard compound in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Civilians and armed forces members carry the coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi in his funeral ceremony outside the Guard compound in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

The prevailing theory among political commentators is that if security, and not socio-economic issues, is at the center of the electoral agenda, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will win on March 17. But even the premier himself understands that a war against Hezbollah or Hamas now could lead to an abrupt reversal of his fortunes, especially in light of the many questions about the necessity of the attack in Syria.

Another violent round of conflict with heavy casualties on the Israeli side would exact a serious price from any prime minister. The Israeli public embraced Netanyahu as long as he provided them with quiet. In the event of hundreds, even thousands, of rockets falling upon Israel without a quick victory in the battlefield (the likely scenario for a war against Hezbollah), one can assume they would be less embracing.

This fact may be at the root of the anonymous official’s apology, Bennett’s video notwithstanding. Unofficial Israel decided to bow its head and say, Sorry, we were wrong. We did not intend to eliminate General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards.

Iranians at the gates

Despite the “we didn’t know the Iranians were there” claim, however, it’s hard to imagine that the Israeli official in charge of the airstrike on Mazrat al-Amal was not aware that the targeted convoy included such a senior Iranian general. These are things that presumably can be identified from a drone — guards, a particularly large convoy, radio traffic, etc.

Why exactly was an Iranian general reconnoitering near the border with Israel? Tehran, as usual, isn’t showing signs of apology or regret or explanation. For Iran, it’s quite natural that General Allahdadi would be thousands of kilometers from home, observing Israel.

Iran’s brazenness, or audacity, goes further. While a desperate-looking US administration tries to advance talks over the Iranian nuclear program, the regime in Tehran continues to run a wild foreign policy throughout the Middle East. Though the regime’s income has fallen dramatically in the wake of the drop in oil prices, Tehran is still investing huge sums of money taking control of new assets in the region, from Afghanistan to Libya — almost the territory of the ancient Persian empire of Ahaseurus.

Houthi Shiite Yemeni wearing army uniforms stand atop an armored vehicle, which was seized from the army during recent clashes, outside the house of Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Houthi Shiite Yemeni wearing army uniforms stand atop an armored vehicle, which was seized from the army during recent clashes, outside the house of Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

One headline in recent days has been the revolution Iran has been pushing in Yemen. The Houthi minority, Zeidi Shiites, is conquering the capital Sanaa with ease, with the international community completely overwhelmed in the face of the power of the Houthi army, backed by, unsurprisingly, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Taking control of Sanaa, and drastically changing the power balance in the government, will certainly have consequences for the regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has a mutual border with Yemen; there’ll be an impact on Iraq too, where the Shiite militias enjoy the close support of not only the Iranians but also Hezbollah members. The most senior Hezbollah commander killed in the attack in Syria earlier this week, Muhammad Issa, was responsible for the organization’s activities in Iraq and Syria. And of course, Hezbollah and Iran are deeply involved in the Sunni-Shiite fighting in Lebanon.

Iran, and not the Islamic State, continues to present the greatest threat to Israel and to regional stability.

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