The Trump administration is in talks with Arab allies about having them form a military alliance that would share intelligence with Israel to help counter their mutual foe, Iran, according to several Middle Eastern officials. The alliance would include countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that are avowed enemies of Israel as well as Egypt and Jordan, which have longstanding peace treaties with Israel, according to five officials from Arab countries involved in the discussions. Other Arab countries, such as Kuwait and Bahrain, could also join the alliance. For the Arab countries involved, the alliance would have a NATO-style mutual-defense component under which an attack on one member would be treated as an attack on all, though details are still being worked out, the officials said. The U.S. would offer military and intelligence support to the alliance, beyond the kind of limited backing it has been providing to a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the officials said. But neither the U.S. nor Israel would be part of the mutual-defense pact... Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are putting forth their own demands in exchange for cooperating with Israel, officials said. Those two countries want the U.S. to overturn legislation that could see their governments sued in American courts by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, they said. Trump administration officials have told Gulf allies they would lobby Congress to amend the legislation, though it passed last year with overwhelming support that could make changes difficult. Some representatives have expressed regret for supporting the legislation because of concerns the legislation could allow foreigners in turn to sue the U.S. government in other cases, and have voiced plans to amend it... One Arab diplomat suggested that the notion that the Trump administration might designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group was being floated as an incentive for Egypt to join the alliance.
Before the platters of roast lamb and fragrant rice were served, visiting executives squeezed into the front room of the Swedish ambassador's home in Tehran to applaud ambitious plans to restore Iran as a top trade partner. The men and women representing companies including AstraZeneca Plc and truckmaker Scania AB had flown in with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who was making the first official visit to Iran by a Swedish premier since a mediation effort during the 1980s war with Iraq. The 75-member delegation was intent on doing business, but the politics was inescapable: as the U.S. under Donald Trump steps away from Iran, Europe's moving forward, unwilling to throw away years of tortuous diplomacy... The Swedish trade delegation was sandwiched between a high-level French political and commercial visit, led by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and a Feb. 12 automobiles conference attended by senior executives from Peugeot, Citroen, Renault and Hyundai. "I've been to Iran 25 times in less than two years," Jean-Christophe Quemard, Peugeot's executive vice-president for the Middle East and Africa, told reporters when asked if his latest trip was in any way motivated by Trump's policies. "What does this mean? Times have changed. You need to get used to seeing our faces in Tehran"... For Europeans turning up in Iran, pledging to boost business is the easy part. Delivering is harder, especially as sanctions not lifted under the 2015 accord-primarily U.S. curbs punishing Tehran for its missile program and links to groups such as Hezbollah that America designates as terrorist-continue to scare away major banks.
A full-length animated film depicting an armed confrontation between Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the U.S. navy is soon to open in Iranian cinemas, amid rising tensions over President Donald Trump's hardening rhetoric against Tehran... The 88-minute animation opens with the U.S. army attacking an Iranian nuclear reactor, and the U.S. navy in the Gulf hitting strategic locations across the county. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a powerful branch of the Iranian military, retaliates with full force, raining ballistic missiles on the U.S. warships. "They all sink and the film ends as the American ships have turned into an aquarium for fishes at the bottom of the sea," Azima said... The main Iranian commander in the film has been intentionally depicted as Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC commander who is overseeing Iran's military operations in Syria and Iraq against Islamist militants.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iran's exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, is urging the United States and Israel not to fall into a "trap" by escalating their disputes with the Iranian government into a military conflict... "If there is anyone who would be the most pleased to see an escalation of conflict, it happens to be the [Iranian] regime, because they stand to benefit by creating more distraction from their problems - and one should not fall into that trap," he said. "I have always been a proponent of [a strategy] that avoids military confrontation because I consider that to be lose-lose, and there are so many other options on the table"... Pahlavi said the only strategy that he thinks can end Iran's dispute with the U.S. and Israel is to bring about the departure of the Iranian clerical leadership... Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton also spoke in favor of "regime change" in Iran at a Washington forum held by U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) on February 9... Bolton said that policy requires more U.S. support for the Iranian opposition, rather than military action. Even so, he believes there may not be enough time to achieve regime change before Iran's Islamist rulers acquire nuclear weapons. Critics of the 2015 nuclear deal say it will allow Iranian leaders to quickly build a nuclear bomb when restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities begin expiring after 13 years. That, said Bolton, "is why, if you don't want an Iran with nuclear weapons, you have to contemplate the use of military force to prevent that."
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
The abrupt resignation Monday evening of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is the culmination of a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, according to multiple sources in and out of the White House... The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes-the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber-included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility, multiple sources revealed. The operation primarily focused on discrediting Flynn, an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, in order to handicap the Trump administration's efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration... Flynn had been preparing to publicize many of the details about the nuclear deal that had been intentionally hidden by the Obama administration as part of its effort to garner support for the deal, these sources said.
Iran is implementing the deal on its nuclear programme agreed with world powers, the head of the U.N. atomic energy watchdog said on Tuesday, amid concerns the United States will try to alter the terms... Trump's administration is considering insisting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) toughen its policing of Iran's compliance, including demanding access to military sites, sources have told Reuters. The United States would need support from the 34 other countries who sit on the IAEA board of governors for military site inspections. Amano said "Iran is implementing the JCPOA" apart from some breaches that saw its stock of heavy water slightly exceed the limit set under agreement which have been rectified... Amano declined to directly comment on what it would mean if the United States did try to change the deal, particularly if it did so while Iran remained compliant. He said how Iran implements safeguards should be the same as any other country with "no discrimination and no special treatment."
Mr. Netanyahu's main goal this visit, analysts said, is to marshal American support for rigorously enforcing the Iran nuclear deal. That position has broad support inside the administration, including from Mr. Trump's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the biggest hawk on Iran in the White House may have been Mr. Flynn... With Mr. Flynn no longer in the picture, and Mr. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are traveling, the Netanyahu-Trump meeting is likely to include Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon. That lineup, analysts said, could tilt the conversation more toward a potential peace initiative than to additional steps to pressure Iran.
Iran's oil minister has criticised French oil company Total for its decision to delay signing a contract to develop a gas field in southern Iran, saying that the reasons given by Total's chief executive were "unacceptable" to Tehran. Total was the first Western energy company to sign a major deal with Tehran since the lifting of international sanctions with its South Pars 11 project in the Gulf to develop a part of the world's largest gas field that Iran shares with Qatar.
Total's chief executive, Patrick Pouyanne, said last week that it aimed to make a final investment decision on the $2 billion project by the summer, but the decision hinges on the renewal of U.S. sanctions waivers. "I don't know why Total has said so," Bijan Zanganeh was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency on Wednesday. "It's been included in the contract that we all follow European Union's policies. Their comments are unacceptable," he added. U.S. President Donald Trump has called into doubt the Western powers' deal with Iran over its nuclear technology development programme and, responding to an Iran's ballistic missile test last month, imposed fresh sanctions on Tehran. The South Pars 11 project aims to produce 1.8 billion cubic feet a day of gas, equivalent to 370,000 barrels of oil. The produced gas will be fed into Iran's gas network.
India's Iran oil imports rose marginally in January compared to the previous month as Indian refiners received full volumes from the key OPEC producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq, shipping data showed on Wednesday. Iran used to be India's second-biggest oil supplier, a position which now belongs to regional-rival Iraq after tough Western sanctions over its nuclear development programme limited Tehran's exports and access to finance. In January, Iran was the third biggest oil supplier to India after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. India's oil imports from Iran have risen sharply after those sanctions were lifted a year ago. In January, Iranian oil imports more than trebled compared with the same month last year, rising to 554,600 barrels per day (bpd), according to ship tracking data and a report compiled by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts... Indian refiners including Reliance Industries Ltd, operator of the world's biggest refinery complex at Jamnagar, that had stopped imports from Iran during the sanctions period, have also returned as buyers of Iranian oil.
After a multiyear investigation that uncovered and froze assets held by a slew of El Aissami-associated companies, while detailing his role in narcotics trafficking, the Treasury Department has reached an unambiguous conclusion. Its press statement describes the vice president as a "prominent Venezuelan drug trafficker." Remarkably, that isn't the darkest accusation that's been leveled against him. Those stem from his 2008-2012 stint as Hugo Chávez's interior minister, a powerful post with control over the security services. The time frame overlaps with the infamous weekly Iran Air flight that covered an odd Tehran-Damascus-Caracas route once a week, using a huge, aging Boeing 747. The flight remained shrouded in mystery for years. Tickets were not on sale to the public. All cargo coming on and off was handled with utmost secrecy by Venezuelan security personnel. And bizarre stories abounded over what and who exactly was being ferried among these capitals.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Oman as part of a two-state visit aimed at reviving ties with Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors. Rouhani is expected to travel to Kuwait after visiting Oman. Tehran's relations with the six-member, Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council of Arab states have been strained since Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with the Shiite power Iran last year. Iran's official IRNA news agency reported that Iran has received a message from the GCC states aimed at removing misunderstandings and improving relations.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country sought good relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors as he began a one-day trip to Oman and Kuwait on Wednesday, his first since taking power in 2013... Rouhani also said there should be greater unity between Shi'ites and Sunnis, saying they had "coexisted side by side peacefully for hundreds of years", IRNA reported. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 after protesters torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates recalled their envoys in a show of solidarity with Riyadh, but Oman only expressed regret over the attack, highlighting its better ties. Kuwait's foreign minister made a rare visit to Tehran in late January and called for frank dialogue between Iran and its regional neighbors.
A man and wife were slightly injured on Tuesday by a "terrorist explosion" in Bahrain, the Bahraini interior ministry said... The explosion came on the sixth anniversary of "Arab Spring" protests in Bahrain, mainly by its Shi'ite Muslim majority, demanding reforms. On Feb. 5, a bomb exploded on the outskirts of Manama, damaging cars but causing no injuries, in what the interior ministry also described as a terrorist act. Last month, Bahrain executed three men convicted of killing three policemen in a 2014 bomb attack. Bahrain accuses non-Arab Iran of fanning unrest and supporting militants. Iran denies involvement.
Iran has reportedly appointed Brig. Gen. Iraj Masjedi as its new ambassador to Baghdad, replacing Hassan Dana'i Fer, according to Iranian media reports on Jan. 15. Masjedi is a prominent leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and serves as an adviser to Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force. Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer Sabhan, who served as the first Saudi ambassador in Iraq after 2003, attacked Masjedi on Jan. 15, calling him "an internationally wanted war criminal." Faleh al-Fayyad, the national security adviser and head of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), was quick to reply on Jan. 22, saying, "Our relations with Iraq are not determined by other parties," a jab at Saudi Arabia... Haidar al-Moul, a parliament member for the Shiite National Alliance, called, albeit reluctantly, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to vet Masjedi and to investigate whether he is a war criminal. He classed Masjedi's presence as part of Iran's military expansion in Iraq. Many media outlets reported that Masjedi is working on strengthening the military and political presence of the PMU and other armed factions. There is not much information available on Masjedi, who has been described by the Washington Institute as a "seasoned Quds Force operative." "What is clear is his reportedly deep involvement in Quds Force activities in Iraq over the past several years, many resulting in the death, injury or kidnapping of US and coalition personnel as well as the assassination of Iraqi provincial officials who did not see eye to eye with Tehran," the article read.
Bloody protests in Baghdad over the weekend by followers of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr signal the resumption of a power struggle between Iraq's Shi'ite leaders which had been put on hold to focus on the war against Islamic State... [Sadr's] main rival is former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a pro-Iranian politician who started positioning himself last year as a possible kingmaker or even for a return to the premiership itself... A return to power for Maliki would bolster Iranian influence in Baghdad, giving Tehran leverage in any conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which put new sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its missile test last month. Although Sadr is openly hostile to Washington's policies in the Middle East and has spent considerable time in Iran, he would be a less dependable ally for Tehran in Baghdad. He has a troubled relationship with Iraqi political groups allied with Iran, and portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist... Maliki's eight-year rule ended in 2014, when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an Islamic State offensive, forcing him to hand over power to current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Both men are members of the Shi'ite Dawa party. Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite politician, was better able to work with the Americans who helped rebuild the army and provided critical air and ground support to troops battling the Sunni jihadists after they seized a third of Iraq in 2014... Abadi has overseen the two-year fightback, but lacks a political powerbase to match Sadr or Maliki. "Abadi came as a compromise between the Americans and the Iranians," said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think tank. "Given the escalation with the Trump administration, Iran would for sure seek to have a strong, loyal ally in Baghdad" to take over after the parliamentary elections next year, he said.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Everyone is a "moderate" these days. The Economist used the word "moderate Muslim" in three articles in its January 28 edition... The moderate-hardliner spectrum is one of the most facile media clichés. Hamas' new Gazan leader is a "hardliner," while Iran's president, enforcing the most extreme discrimination against women, is a "moderate" and Saudi Arabia's former king, who did not allow women to drive, was a "reformer"... For almost two decades since 9/11 the mainstream media in every Western country, and to some extent the rest of the world, has adopted Orwellian language to whitewash and mislead the public about the nature of Islamist regimes, political Islamism and the creeping bigotry, hatred and extreme right-wing, conservative, fundamentalist intolerance in parts of the world. There needs to be a push-back against this agenda, or our world will slowly become dominated by the most hateful and intolerant views, passed off as normal and even liberal... The unwillingness to question the nature of Islamist conservative hate-mongering and chauvinism was on display when Sweden's trade minister made a pilgrimage to Tehran to beg approval from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Swedish minister dressed her female delegation in long coats and head-scarves so as not to offend the extreme right-wing, theocratic hate-mongering Iranian regime. Facing criticism in the media for the veiling, she told the newspaper Aftonbladet that "she was not willing to break Iranian law," according to reports. What would be a red line in "Iranian law," for Sweden, which boasts a "feminist government," to finally say no? If the delegation had to take part in the hanging of a Baloch dissident, would that be too much? Or perhaps if they had to remove any avowed homosexuals from the delegation lest they "pollute" Iran? While Kurdish women train with AK-47s to resist the Iranian regime, Sweden's politicians heap adoration on it. It wasn't enough to don a head-covering, the delegation draped themselves in heavy coats so as not to offend the religious fanatics with their "immodest" bodies. When the Iranian president brought a delegation to meet the Swedes in Tehran he brought only men. No women, no problem. Countries respect human rights and equality shouldn't send delegations to Iran in the first place. It's one thing to cover one's hair or remove shoes when entering a house of worship, to observe the local custom, but when a country has vicious discriminatory laws forcing women to dress a certain way, it's time for governments to say "no." No meetings, no respect, no stamp of approval to fascist treatment for women... Beyond being honest in our language, we need to have a different policy when it comes to Iran and Saudi Arabia and regimes like them. We must demand that Rouhani's delegations to the West consist of Iranian women dissidents, such as those imprisoned for attending volleyball games, or he won't be allowed to come... Don't like it? Then don't come. Stay home, where things are more moderate.
The best way for the Trump administration to fulfill its commitment to repair the damage caused by what the president has described as the Obama administration's "disastrous" approach to Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear agreement involves a multipronged approach: take back control of the narrative about the deal so as to expose Iran's false claims; fully implement and enforce Iran's obligations under the deal; enforce the remaining sanctions on Iran; press forward with additional sanctions for illicit behavior... Unlike "tearing up the deal," which puts the onus on the United States and may earn Iran political support in other capitals, this approach has the potential of winning international support for a much tougher stance against Iran to expose and disrupt Iranian malign activity.
Netanyahu, who blasted the 2015 nuclear agreement as a "historic mistake," will want to be briefed on Trump's strategy for dealing with the nuclear issue and responding to Iran's continued support for terrorism, expanding ballistic missile program, and deepening military intervention in Syria. Cooperation on missile defense should be an especially important agenda item. Iran's medium-range missiles already can reach Israel with a 1,000-pound payload. On February 4, Mojtaba Zonour, a member of Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, helpfully reminded the world that "only seven minutes are needed for an Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv" and that 36 U.S. military bases in the Middle East are within range of Iranian missiles. Israel is now deploying the Arrow-3 interceptor, developed jointly with the United States, and the two leaders should agree to support cooperation in further enhancing missile defenses... In order to take full advantage of this meeting, the White House should: Build a common front against Iran's aggression. President Trump should discuss plans to hold Iran accountable for its hostile regional policies and roll back its influence, outlining the Administration's strategy for ratcheting up sanctions on Iran and particularly on the IRGC, which controls Iran's ballistic missile program and efforts to export terrorism. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu should also coordinate on interdicting the flow of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups... Do not legitimize Russia's or Iran's role in Syria. Israel has legitimate concerns about the increasing role that Iran and Hezbollah are playing in Syria. Trump needs to ensure that U.S. policies in regard to Syria will not inadvertently harm Israel's security.
The Trump administration has put Iran "on notice" for its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and violation of international norms. While I have some significant concerns about how this was done, it is perfectly reasonable and indeed advisable to take a harder line with regards to Iranian behavior that is counter to the interests of the United States and its Middle Eastern partners. But the Trump administration should also maintain the communications channels the Obama administration opened with Iran. In life and diplomacy it is almost always better to communicate directly than not communicate, even if you disagree. After 35 years with rare sporadic communication between the United States and the Islamic Republic, establishing a direct line between the Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister was an important achievement of the Obama administration and one that should be maintained. Moreover, if the United States keeps channels open and is seen as reasonable and open to negotiation, it can isolate Iran and build international consensus when Iran violates international norms. But if the Trump administration closes the door to dialogue than it will allow Iran to portray itself as the victim of an irresponsible Trump administration and make it harder to generate international pressure.
One might argue that with Obama gone, there's nowhere for the U.S.-Israeli relationship to go but up. Tensions over the Iran issue will abate; the administration may well be inclined to try to coordinate with Israel on some kind of regional approach on peacemaking; and right now there just isn't anything to fight over. But the Middle East is full of surprises. And while Israel and the U.S. share a remarkable degree of shared values as fellow democracies, they do live on different planets and are driven by different sets of security risks and threats that will make it hard to produce-either on Iran or the peace process-a coincidence of interest across the board... We're not necessarily heading for the sequel to the Obama-Netanyahu soap opera, but there's no guarantee of a new honeymoon in U.S.-Israeli relations either. Indeed, for all the reasons identified above, I'm betting that within a year or so-and it might not take that long-Trump and Netanyahu will be annoying the hell out of each other. And then what?
Even before Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, fierce opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal by hardliners in both Tehran and Washington had seemed to set the two nations on a collision course. Yet a closer look at the Trump administration's oft-bellicose stance and Iran's own words and actions also reveals elements of restraint... [B]oth the Trump administration and leaders in Tehran have also taken measured steps that have been carefully calibrated to avoid unintended escalation. Iranian officials downplayed the significance of the ballistic missile testing, calling them "for defensive purposes" only and insisting that they were "not a message to the new U.S. government." Most importantly, Iran has complied with the terms of the nuclear deal, seeking to avoid providing the Trump administration a pretext for a forceful reply. For its part, the White House has reacted to the tests by imposing limited and targeted sanctions against "people and companies alleged to be involved in the missile program"... Iran, it seems, may be the first meaningful test of the Trump administration and its national security officials. The ultimate outcome of an open military confrontation with Iran, in favor of the U.S., may well not be in doubt, but it will likely be costly. Compared to Iraq, Iran has twice the population and nearly four times the land, which offers a forbidding terrain of cities, mountains, and deserts. Even a more limited campaign of strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities will at best delay Iran's ability to acquire a nuclear weapon by "up to four years" and will actually increase "the likelihood of Iran becoming a nuclear state." Iran also has many conventional options for retaliating against the U.S. or its regional allies, ranging from its extensive missile capabilities, small submarines, fast attack boats, and minelayers. Of course, Iran could also mobilize proxy forces in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Afghanistan to increase attacks on American forces and interests in the region. The successful management of these challenges with Iran will require a deft application of the full range of American diplomatic, economic, and military power. We may well soon see if President Trump and his national security team are up to this challenge
On the campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump promised us a return to the Reagan-era doctrine of "peace through strength." Over the last two weeks, the Trump administration has begun implementing that doctrine in a dramatic fashion. First came national security adviser Michael Flynn "putting Iran on notice"... [I]t was past time America put many of those adversaries "on notice." The last decade has seen one administration that unfortunately became consumed by two wars, to the detriment of our other commitments around the world, and another that was at best ambivalent about the long-term threats posed by the foreign adventurism of Iran, China and Russia. Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have stepped firmly into the vacuum created by America's distraction on one hand and ambivalence on another... While Tehran agreed to defer its nuclear ambitions after the promise of economic relief from the West, it's not been dissuaded from continuing to develop long-range missiles and other asymmetric military capabilities... While the details and nuances of President Trump's interpretation of a "peace through strength" doctrine, other than a military buildup, have yet to emerge, it is clear the gauntlet has been thrown and he now has the world's attention. It's more than the last administration achieved in eight long years. Now comes the hard work of establishing the boundaries of that policy and building not only the military force but the coalition and treaty structures to support it.
The meat of th[e Trump-Netanyahu] meeting, meanwhile, will be Iran and its allies, such as Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist paramilitaries Israel has been fighting for 35 years. Insofar as anything is clear about Mr Trump's Middle East policies it is that he will want to work with Israel and Russia to restrict and maybe roll back Iran's growing influence in the region. This intersects with Israel's concern much more than it does with Vladimir Putin's Russia, which alongside Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hizbollah and Iraqi Shia militias, has salvaged Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria... Yet, although President Trump started out as ultra-bellicose on Iran, he may end being constrained by intractable facts. He may well come to realise that militarily there are limits to what he can do, at least without pouring fuel on to a region on fire. While clearly the US has levers, he may find tightening the sanctions screws unexciting, since they will not significantly loosen Iran's regional grip. He may, in other words, trace a similar arc to Israel, which long excited speculation that it might bomb Iran's nuclear infrastructure. And that could lead him to where Israel is now: its focus firmly on Hizbollah... Always present on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Israel is on alert to Hizbollah bringing Iran close to its border with Syria, where until this civil war the Assad regime had ensured not a shot had been fired for 40 years. In the past 10 weeks, Israel has carried out at least five missile or air strikes inside Syria against alleged convoys and stockpiles of weapons intended for Hizbollah, including of "game-changing" Russian-made surface-to-air missiles that would dispute Israel's mastery of the skies. The next war with Hizbollah is discussed as a given. The Institute for National Security Studies, Israel's top think-tank, last month described Hizbollah as "currently the gravest military threat to Israel", ahead of its sponsor Iran. While Tehran declares its own and its allies' defiance, the temptation for the Trump administration eventually to approve of an Israeli campaign against Hizbollah is likely to grow. Part of Hizbollah's function as a proxy is that it serves as the next best thing to attacking Iran directly.