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?