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Creeping in through Syria, Iran is just a border fence away from Israel

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In the summer of 2018 it seemed Israel could breathe easy regarding Iran’s presence across the northern border. The Russians, so we were told, had successfully brokered an agreement between Iran, Syria and Israel that Iranian and Hezbollah forces would retreat some 70 kilometers from the border on the Golan Heights.

Apparently not.

On Wednesday it was reported that Israel’s air force had dropped leaflets over Syrian villages near the Golan border warning them to stay away from Hezbollah and Iranian facilities in the area for their own safety. Meaning – Iranian presence is no longer in question, neither 70 kilometers from the border nor only 7, with the most likely scenario being 70 meters. Iran, through its proxy the Hezbollah terror group, has increased its presence along Israel’s border, either through Syrian army outposts or independent outposts of its own.

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Early Wednesday morning Israel attacked such outposts near Quneitra (and near Damascus), and just a week ago conducted a much more extensive attack within Syria against a wealth of Iranian facilities and outposts. The general feeling is that the extensive Israeli mission intended to distance Iran from Israel’s borders is far from achieving its goal – in fact, the opposite is true. The Iranians, via Hezbollah, are coming closer and closer, trying to establish another front apart from the Lebanese one.

The implications of such a front are problematic. It is clear that Hezbollah is currently not interested in an escalation in Lebanon, and is careful to avoid carrying out its promised ‘act of vengeance’ at the death of one of its members in an alleged Israeli strike in Syria. It could be that this is due to the negotiations surrounding the marking of the maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah does not want to be blamed for blowing billions of dollars’ worth of future income from potential natural gas deals to the Lebanese coffers, leaving Lebanon in ruins once again. Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

The front in Syria provides Hezbollah with a very convenient arena of action at the grey fringes of the Syrian army, from which they can plant explosive devices and run. Or carry out a ‘sniper attack’ without accepting responsibility, leaving Israel in an awkward position and facing a serious dilemma – should it or shouldn’t it retaliate against Hezbollah, and if so where, and what would be the cost of such retaliation.

There is no question that Hezbollah has managed to create a genuine deterrence equation vis-à-vis the IDF through its chief’s Hassan Nasrallah’s claims that any attack against his men – even in Syrian territory – will result in injury to Israeli soldiers. Israel’s consent to this price tag has resulted in the army’s hands being tied when taking action against the smuggling of arms and rocket accuracy equipment from Syria to Lebanon.

The obvious example is the video clip taken some six months ago showing warning shots being fired at a Hezbollah vehicle driving near the border at Jdeidet Yabous, a village that helps the organization smuggle and convey militants.

The video, which was released online at the time, clearly shows that the attacking........

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