With All Eyes on ISIS, Iran 'Drills' Israel’s Destruction

“Paramilitary forces from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard have held a war game simulating the capture of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli control,” the Associated Press reports.

…thousands of members of the Basij, the paramilitary unit of the Guard, participated in Friday’s exercise outside the holy city of Qom in central Iran.

The symbolic operations were backed up by Guard helicopters, drones and Tucano planes that bombed hypothetical enemy positions before ground troops captured the replica of the mosque set up at the top of a mountain….

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division, said his force deployed Shahed-129, or Witness-129, drones during the war games. The drone, unveiled in 2013, has a range of 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles), a 24-hour nonstop flight capability and can carry eight bombs or missiles.

AP then informs us that it’s not really anything to worry about:

Even so, the exercise appeared to be largely for show. Iranian commanders have not said how they would be able to deploy large numbers of forces against Israel, located 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away, or overcome Israel’s powerful and technologically advanced military.

Actually, there are ways that they can do that. One is to use the immense windfall they stand to reap from last July’s nuclear deal, in the form of lifted sanctions and boosted trade and oil sales, to build up their capabilities. Another is to create a land bridge westward to the Mediterranean, something they’re striving to do at all times.

And another is to rely on the Western preoccupation with the Islamic State, and increasing tendency to treat Iran as a strategic ally and stabilizing force, to keep pursuing their plans relatively untrammeled.

Ehud Yaari, a veteran Israeli Middle East analyst, takes Iran’s aims seriously enough that he devoted a long analysis to them called “How Iran Plans to Destroy Israel.” “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” Yaari notes, “has been committed for the past 36 years to a doctrine aimed at wiping Israel off the map. Statements to this effect still pour out of Tehran almost daily.”

For one thing,

Iran is relying on its rapidly growing arsenal of long-range missiles…. [T]he leaders have long emphasized to Iranian military commanders the need to develop missiles that can reach Israel in particular. This began with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei’s order for missiles with a 1,000-kilometer range that, if launched from Iran’s western border, could hit Israel. Still later, Khamenei instructed his commanders to acquire missiles with a 2,000-kilometer range, allowing for a successful hit on Israel from most of Iran’s territory. And later still Khamenei personally ordered that the accuracy of the missiles should be dramatically improved.

What about Iranian forces reaching Israel itself, as in the Revolutionary Guard’s Al-Aqsa drill? Yaari acknowledges that, apart from its missile arsenal, at present Iran’s air force, navy, and ground forces have only limited capabilities. But “all this may change if Iran decides to allocate resources, derived from [the] nuclear deal, to a major effort to project military power beyond its borders.”

As Yaari notes, Iran already sponsors terror militias on Israel’s Gaza and Lebanon borders and has been striving to create a similar threat—based in part on its own forces—on Israel’s Golan border with Syria. Beyond all that,

Some Iranians imagine the creation of a land corridor from Iran through Shi‘a regions in Iraq to its desert al-Anbar province and from there to Syria and Lebanon. Establishing such a corridor would require at least the tacit cooperation of the authorities in Bagdad (where Iran already enjoys predominance) or the power brokers in Iraq’s southern provinces. It would definitely require [overcoming] the Islamic State’s current control over key sectors of western Iraq…. Some militiamen have made it all the way to Damascus to protect that capital from a Sunni onslaught, so anything is possible.

The Islamic State is, of course, a murderous threat in itself that should ideally be decimated and destroyed. But it should not be at the cost of further empowering Iran—which, with its ever-advancing (despite the deal) nuclear program and its missiles that can already reach most of Europe, constitutes a far greater threat.

Since the Vienna deal Iran has further boosted uranium enrichment, tested a nuclear-capable missile in breach of a UN Security Council ban, arrested yet another American citizen and an American resident, and continued its “Death to America, Death to Israel” rallies to Khamenei’s approval. Also, Khamenei has published a 416-page book called Palestine that mandates both Israel’s and America’s destruction.

Yes, the Islamic State has lately mounted deadly attacks in Beirut, Baghdad, Sinai, and Paris, and there is talk of it developing chemical or biological weapons. Iran has a much longer history of such attacks, is a country of 80 million people with exponentially greater power than the Islamic State, and is on the way to—or may already have reached—nuclear weapons.

The West is, unfortunately, all too capable of pretending Iran is its ally against a more graphic but, meanwhile, much smaller threat. It’s a potentially catastrophic mistake.