Sinai strike signals deluge after Assad

By John R Bradley, August 9, 2012

it has long been held that Iran is the greatest threat facing Israel. But there is a far more imminent danger - and it is closer to home.

With Assad's regime ever closer to implosion, many groups are circling for power in Syria. Prominent among these are foreign jihadists who have been flooding into the country to fight and are waiting for their chance to turn their firepower on Israel.

Meanwhile, recent attacks by Islamists along Israel's border with Egypt show that the danger posed by jihadists is not an intangible fear but a very present - and growing - problem.

This week's daring raid on an Israeli border post by radical Islamists in Egypt's Sinai region shows that even the Egyptian generals that are in favour of the peace treaty are unable to control the part of their relatively stable country bordering Israel. That area is awash with radical Islamists determined to launch attacks against Jewish state at every opportunity.

This week, a penetrating analysis of the geopolitical dimension to the armed uprising in Syria came from a surprising source: Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, who was in Damascus pledging his regime's continued military, technical and economic support for Tehran's only remaining Arab ally.

Mr Jalili asserted that "Iran will never allow the resistance axis - of which Syria is an essential pillar - to break," adding that what was happening in Syria "is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance, on one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other."

This "axis of resistance" are the Middle East's most powerful anti-Western and anti-Israeli forces: Iran, Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas.

Mr Jalili's characterisation of the armed insurrection in Syria, moreover, was equally accurate.

It was fomented, he insisted, not by the Syrian masses, who for the most part have not joined the anti-regime uprising, but by tens of thousands of radical Sunni Islamists from inside and outside the country, who are bent on establishing an Islamist state in Syria. These jihadis are openly armed, trained and funded by Washington and Tel Aviv's main regional allies - Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

For Israeli hawks, determined as ever to attack Iran and with an eye on the possible election in November of staunchly pro-Israel US Republican candidate Mitt Romney (who recently pledged his support for just such an attack), cheerleading this Islamist-led uprising against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad is driven by a clear and, at first glance, logical goal.

With the overthrow of the Syrian regime - which provides a conduit for Iran to provide aid to its proxy Hizbollah in Lebanon, and has long offered a safe haven for the Hamas leadership - Iran will be more isolated and vulnerable, and Israel's other established enemies weakened.

However, even if all goes as planned and the Assad regime falls, to be replaced by a Western-backed interim government of "moderate" Islamist groups and former regime defectors, Israel may then find itself confronting an even more determined, uncontrollable and fanatical enemy than the Assad regime has ever proved to be.

While the jihadists are no allies of Shia-dominated Iran, and are focused at the moment on overthrowing the secular Assad regime, their desire to see the destruction of the Jewish state is obvious. An Israeli attack on Iran could well provide the spark, then, for simultaneous wars against Israel on three fronts: Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Even the most hawkish members of Israel's government should be focusing more on this threat than on an Iranian regime that, by all objective accounts, is still years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

John R Bradley's books include 'Inside Egypt' and 'After the Arab Spring'

Last updated: 2:45pm, August 9 2012