U.S.-Israeli ideological war tactics at play

As four American-guided missile destroyers are being positioned in the eastern Mediterranean for possible airstrikes against Syria, Israel - with U.S. backing - test fired a missile over the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday in an unannounced operation. This military maneuver seems to have taken several countries in the region, and internationally, by surprise. The Russian state’s official news agency, RIA Novosti, was the first to report the missile, as Moscow detected the launch of two ballistic objects in the Mediterranean area. Later, as further confirmation, the Israeli Defense Ministry posted a 33-second video of a jet launching the missile on its Facebook page. The Defense Ministry has stated, “all the elements of the system performed according to their operational configuration.”

Pentagon officials initially called the Russian report on the ballistic missile launch “mischievous,” aiming to discredit and deny it. While later, Pentagon officials confirmed that Israel - with U.S. assistance - tested a new air-defense system on Tuesday, including the launching of a missile from deep in the Mediterranean Sea. In the following statement, officials announced that the Pentagon had provided support and technical assistance to the Israelis for the Sparrow missile test launch. The announcement stated, “the test was long planned to help the Sparrow Ballistic Missile Defense system’s ability to detect, track and communicate information about a simulated threat to Israel.”
According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, this first test of the latest version of the Sparrow target missile was conducted successfully. As discussion on possible options in Syria continue, Israel’s recent military maneuvers seem to be adding to the already heightened tensions in the region as the American government debates a military strike in Syria.

Heightened geopolitical tension

Though Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has said that Tel Aviv was not involved in American foreign and domestic policy processes regarding a military strike on Syria, these recent military maneuvers by Tel Aviv send formidable signals of other, intensified, geopolitical tension in the region, specifically between the Islamic Republic of Iran— backed by Hezbollah and Assad’s regime— and Tel Aviv. International tensions have been running high as the U.S. has moved closer to obtaining congressional authorization for the strike.

Both Iranian and Israeli leaders have utilized implicit or explicit language to refer to the threats from the other side

Majid Rafizadeh

On the same day that Israel tested the American-backed missile over the Mediterranean, the Iranian Navy unveiled a new warship, according to regional media reports. Iranian generals have stated that this warship is equipped with “advanced weapons and radar systems.” As Iranian leaders have publicly warned that Israel would be the “main loser” or first “target” if the United States decides to launch a military strike in Syria, these militaristic moves are products of heightened tensions.

Iran’s recent military and navy operations seem to indicate changes in the geopolitical and ideological landscape of the region. According to Iran’s state run Fars News Agency, Iranian Navy commander Habibollah Sayyari announced that Tehran had prepared and overhauled a warship, as well as installed new radar and weapons systems with the ability to “improve its performance and fire power.” Iranian military leaders have argued that this will enhance and improve the nation’s “electronic warfare” and military capabilities through testing radar systems that are manufactured domestically and are capable of detecting “stealth targets and cruise missiles.” Sayyari added that “the warship needed an overhaul and equipment with the state of the art and novel technologies and therefore the warship’s weapons have been modernized.”

Both Iranian and Israeli leaders have utilized implicit or explicit language to refer to the threats from the other side, which could lead to a regional conflagration. This week, tacitly referring to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “Israel’s citizens know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario. And Israel’s citizens should also know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our power and not to test our might.” More explicitly, one of the Netanyahu’s ministers, Uri Ariel, said, “in Tehran they are opening bottles of champagne, and surely shifting into high gear toward nuclear weaponization.”

Projecting power

One aspects of such military moves by Iranian leaders is that Tehran is undertaking these navy operations in order to project its power in the region, as well as to deter possible strikes from other countries - particularly the U.S. and Israel. Historically though, Tehran has exaggerated its military capabilities in order to impose its political will and exercise it’s regional and international hegemonic ambitions. Furthermore, Iranian leaders have frequently relied on the use of regional proxies (such as Hezbollah) and conducted cyber attacks rather than directly engaging their troops.

Nevertheless, as hundreds of people are being killed in Syria every week, the Iranian government is geopolitically more concerned with Israeli military implications and retaining its staunchest supporter, Assad, in power at any cost - including military, financial, intelligence and advisory support. While Israeli leaders’ main concerns are also linked to Iran’s possible military operations, threats and capabilities.

One of the most intriguing and fundamental issues of the conflict is that Iranian leaders have long held the political position that their military capabilities and navy maneuvers are not considered a threat to the region and the Gulf, that they are for peaceful purposes. On the other hand, Iran’s efforts to project power in the region (particularly in the Gulf) through proxies, cyber attacks and military maneuvers have been frequently exercised. Although, the military maneuvers between Israel and Iran can be viewed as political and military posturing, these moves undoubtedly heighten regional geopolitical tension and they risk grave military confrontation.



Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American scholar is president of the International American Council based in Washington DC. He is on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Formerly, he served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a scholar at Oxford University. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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