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The Syrian Civil War
Israeli Defense Minister: Better ISIS than Iran

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’nd itslon declared late last week that if the Syrian regime falls, he’d rather see ISIS take over than an Iranian proxy run the country. The Times of Israel reports:

“In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. They don’t have the capabilities that Iran has,” Ya’alon told a conference held by the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“Our greatest enemy is the Iranian regime that has declared war on us,” the defense minister said of the threats facing Israel.

“Iran tried to open a terror front against us on the Golan Heights,” he said in reference to efforts by Iranian proxy Hezbollah to plan attacks on Israel.

With its nuclear deal and recent lifting of sanctions, Tehran “has escaped international isolation” and become a “central player” in Syria, he continued. Both the US and Russia are treating Iran as “part of the solution” to the Syrian civil war, Ya’alon said.

“Iran determines future of Syria and if it leads to perpetuation, Iranian hegemony in Syria will be huge challenge for Israel,” he said.

Ya’alon is not just spouting off or making a rhetorical argument: this is a very clear statement of interests, backed up by a cogent analysis. Obviously Israel would prefer “neither of the above,” but if that’s not an option, it’s rational to prefer the less-capable, more isolated of two foes take over strategic territory.

So if this is what the Israelis are saying, what do you imagine the Sunni Arabs must think? (Note: as we have been pointing out, the common fear of Iran here has led in the last few years to an unprecedented rapprochement between the Israelis and the Sunnis.) The Obama Administration ought to think hard about how America is coming off in light of all this: how do these realities shape local perceptions of the American de facto cooperation with Iran against ISIS (in Iraq), and of our feckless “ISIS first” rhetoric, unaccompanied by meaningful action in Syria? Is it any wonder that America is now seen as a completely unreliable ally in the region?

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  • Fat_Man

    “Is it any wonder that America is now seen as a completely unreliable ally in the region?”

    And everywhere else in the world, as well.

    • Ellen

      Right, and that is Obama’s chief legacy in foreign policy, not the Iran Deal or the Cuba Deal, or Geneva 3, 4, 5, etc. It is that the US has become an untrustworthy ally who will change long-standing alliances at the flip of a dime when an inexperienced ideologue comes into office with a different view of the world than the previous 10 presidents had.

  • Jim__L

    I think that if Israel wants Christians to remain in solidarity with it on the basis that we should hate people who kill Jews, Israel should consider carefully ISIS’ beheading of Christians before noting preference for ISIS over Iran.

    • George Von Herman

      the minister is just saying that ISIS is the lesser of 2 evils, not that they want ISIS there.

      • Jim__L

        I don’t think it is a good thing for anyone for the love of US Christians for Israel to be unrequited.

      • Ellen

        Right, and Iran beheads people who convert to Christianity, which is the same thing as what ISIS does to people who are already Christian. There isn’t any moral difference between Sunni extremists in ISIS and Shiite extremists who support Iran, or in their attitudes toward Christianity. The difference, as Yaalon said, is in their capacity to export their hatreds and dominate the region and world. Iran is a large, potentially powerful country with an advanced armaments program. ISIS will never reach that level, if it even survives at all.

        • Jim__L

          No, they’ll just reach the level where they keep sending jihadis to shoot up Christmas parties.

          I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. If Israel thinks that they have a valid casus belli against Iran, they should just go to war and get it over with.

    • Tom

      I would agree with you, but it seems like the choice is between “competent state that kills Christians” and “incompetent state that kills Christians.”

      • Jim__L

        Numbers matter. I haven’t been tracking it too closely so I may be wrong, but I’m under the impression that far more Christians these days are being killed by ISIS than by Iran, and that religious genocide is far more likely under an ISIS-ruled Syria than an Iran-ruled (and Russian-allied) Syria.

        ISIS is competent enough to keep the oil flowing. That is a significant logistical success. They’re also surviving, and holding / taking territory against our wishes. Obama’s characterization of them as the JV team says more about Obama’s incompetence than ISIS’.

        I respect that support for Israel goes beyond self-interest for American Christians. However, that generous impulse can be taken to a fault. I think a preference for ISIS over Iran is exactly that.

  • Jonathan M

    Thoughtful article but misses that point that the United States is coming to the conclusion that its interests are better served by an Iran that has rejoined the international community than an isolated Iran. Implication is that the USA is concerned about the stability of the Sunni states, either because of ISIL or for other reasons. That probably includes Saudi Arabia. Given the experiences in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere, this is not an irrational conclusion. That divergence between Israel’s attitudes towards Iran and the US’ concern about the Sunni world more than anything else explains the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu. Of course, that doesn’t explain how the US will limit Iranian hostility to Israel, assuming it chooses to do so. Or how Israel can get too close to the Sunni states w/o solving the settlement issue.

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