(ANTIMEDIA) — It recently came to light that a secret deal regarding “the Iranian threat” was negotiated and signed by the Trump and Netanyahu governments. That deal pledges full cooperation with one another in targeting Iran. Shortly after, an underreported story also emerged: the Syrian army and its allied Iranian-backed militias advanced toward the border between Israel and Lebanon over the Christmas period.
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According to Reuters, the Syrian Arab Army and the Iranian Shi’ite-led forces, helped by Druze militias, advanced east and south of the Sunni-rebel held bastion of Beit Jin. The report states that the fighters were backed by some of the “heaviest aerial bombing and artillery shelling” since a major assault began more than two months prior to take control of the area.
The enclave is important to Iran and its allies as it is the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition in the southwest of Damascus, known as Western Ghouta. According to Reuters, a western intelligence source confirmed rebel reports that Iranian-backed local militias, operating alongside Hezbollah, were the major players in the battles. This is a deal-breaker for Israel and Washington, which have made it clear they won’t tolerate an Iranian presence on the Israeli border.
According to Reuters’ intelligence source, Iran’s aim was to establish a “strategic presence” along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Perhaps that is why Israel said it would protect Druze villages in Syria – not necessarily because they care about the Druze population but because doing so would give them the pretext to intervene and counter Iran’s expanding influence.
“The Iranian-backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border,” said Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group that operates in the area, according to Reuters.
Reuters also notes that this area has not seen Russian bombing, which only adds further uncertainty regarding much Russia will intervene should something more drastic take place between Iran and Israel. Russia is in Syria primarily to protect its interests, which does not particularly include having a permanent Iranian presence on Israel’s border.
The impending rebels’ defeat will likely entail that Hezbollah would have a secure arms supply line from its border in Southern Lebanon into Syria, Reuters acknowledges, something Israel is unlikely to allow without a fight.
What Israel and the U.S.’ recent agreement to target Iran will involve more directly is still unclear in light of the fact that Iranian-backed militias are days away from securing their stranglehold over the border with Israel. According to Al Arabiya, one of the joint U.S. and Israeli teams will “specialize in ballistic missiles and Iran’s attempts to provide Hezbollah with strategic weapons, which is what Israeli raids in Syria are currently targeting. They will also focus on preventing Iran from establishing missile factories in Syria and Lebanon.”
A third team will also “handle potential escalation scenarios in the region, in which Iran might intervene, specifically a new war arising with Hezbollah.”
U.S. and Israeli sources also allegedly said there was a detailed action plan to confront Iran.
Whatever the U.S. and Israel have in mind to combat Iran, clearly Iran and its allies on the ground are moving ahead undeterred. Whether or not America’s adversaries are simply calling Israel’s bluff or want something to materialize further on the ground remains to be seen. Either way, in Washington’s efforts to stifle Iran over the past few decades, it has almost always been the case that Iran has emerged as an even stronger power than before the U.S. took direct action to contain it.