Israel-Iran Confrontation Over Syria Escalating

In the wake of Iran’s renewed efforts to turn Syria into a base to attack Israel, the dark clouds of war developing over the region have grown more threatening.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Donald Trump spoke on the phone about “threats and challenges” in the Middle East “posed by the Iranian regime.” Earlier that day, Netanyahu met with the new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Tel Aviv, who told Netanyahu that President Trump is still likely to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal when its waiver of sanction on Iran comes up for renewal on May 12, unless Trump can get European leaders to agree with him on a “fix” for the deal’s many flaws.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military response to Iran’s attempts to use Syrian territory as a forward base of attacks continues to intensify.

At about 10:30 p.m. local time Sunday, explosions ripped two Syrian military bases known to be used by the Iranians. It is widely assumed they were the result of an Israeli air strike.

One blast at a munitions warehouse belonging to the Syrian army’s 47th Brigade in central Hama province was so massive that it registered as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake at the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said, “at least 26 fighters were killed, including four Syrians. The others are foreign fighters, a vast majority of them Iranians.” He added that the blast was “likely” carried out by Israel “given the nature of the target.”

The New York Times quoted an unnamed official with the Syrian-Iranian alliance stating that the blast in Hama was the result of the detonation of 200 ground-to-ground missiles stored in the warehouse, killing 16 people, including 11 Iranians.

The second blast occurred at the Neirab military air base near Aleppo, which is also used by Iran as a storage site for surface-to-surface missiles.

An initial report from Iran’s semi-official news agency spoke of a total of 40 people killed in the blasts, including 18 Iranians. That report was later retracted by Iranian officials, who denied that any Iranians had been killed.

Syrian state media first attributed the blasts to “enemy missiles” striking government targets. Later reports made conflicting accusations about who launched the attacks.

THE ISRAELI MILITARY’S REACTION: “NO COMMENT”

As usual, the Israeli military declined to comment in response to questions about the explosions in Syria.

A Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper claimed the attack was carried out by Israel using “bunker-buster” munitions which are designed to penetrate hardened targets and delay their explosion until they reach deep underground. Such weapons would explain the earthquake readings.

The state-owned Tishreen Syrian news service accused the US and Britain of attacking the Syrian bases with nine ballistic missiles launched from a base in northern Jordan.

Commentators speculated that the Sunday attacks may have been discussed during the meeting of Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman with senior Trump administration security officials in Washington last week, as well as during a low-profile visit to Israel by General Joseph Votel, head of the US military’s Central Command, (CENTCOM).

ASSAD’S REWARD TO IRAN FOR ITS HELP IN THE CIVIL WAR

The direct confrontations between the Iranian and Israeli militaries began in February, when an Iranian military unit launched an armed drone from the T-4 base in central Syria to attack Beit She’an, a city in northern Israel. The drone was shot down by an Israeli helicopter which had been tracking it as it entered Israeli air space.

Prior to that time, Israel had been limiting the targets of its air strikes in Syria to weapons warehouses and convoys transporting advanced arms which originated from Iran through to Hezbollah.

In 2016, a retired Israeli commander told the world that since 2012, the Israeli air force had launched more than 100 strikes on Hezbollah and other Iranian-affiliated terrorist targets across Syria to achieve a dual purpose but had refrained from directly targeting Iranian military personnel in Syria. On one level, the raids slowed the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah for its future use in attacks against northern Israel from its bases in Lebanon. On a second level, the attacks were intended to warn Iran against trying to entrench its military presence in Syria.

But as Assad’s forces approached the brink of outright victory in the Syrian civil war, with help from Iran and Russia, Iran sought to collect a strategic reward from Assad in return for its support by permitting Iran to build a permanent military infrastructure on Syrian territory.

A WAKE-UP CALL FOR ISRAEL

The February drone attack was a wake-up call to the Israeli military, signaling that the long-anticipated Iranian military buildup in Syria had become a reality. Israel responded by redirecting its attacks at the Syrian military installations being used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp, also known as the IRGC.

Iran’s goal is to extend Israel’s northern defensive front along the entire length of the Syrian-Lebanese border. The strong Israeli response has made it clear that Israel will not tolerate that threat and will do everything it can to prevent Iran from fortifying its bases and establishing a full-scale military infrastructure in Syria.

Israel’s leaders realized that this was a threat they could not afford to ignore. Israel had made such a mistake before, when it allowed Iran to arm Hezbollah with tens of thousands of missiles which they hid across southern Lebanon. They enabled Hezbollah to unleash a missile barrage which totally disrupted normal life in Haifa and the rest of northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War, in the summer of 2006.

That war became a military standoff. It was ended by a UN ceasefire, which raised the status of Hezbollah from just another terrorist group to a permanent regional military and political power, significantly strengthening Iran’s influence over the region.

This time, Israel’s leaders are determined not to repeat that mistake. They will not permit Iran to change the strategic balance which has kept the Syrian border largely quiet since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. To do so, Israel will continue to attack and destroy the military infrastructure Iran is trying build in Syria to prevent it from becoming fully operational.

HOSTILITIES ESCALATE

The Iranian drone attack in February was also notable because the Israeli retaliation resulted in the first loss of an Israeli warplane in combat in many years. When an Israeli F-16 was shot down by a Russian-made Syrian antiaircraft missile, the Israeli air force retaliated with a strike which crippled Syria’s air defenses.

After Israeli and Iranian leaders exchanged more public threats, the Israeli air force struck again on April 9. Two jets flying in Lebanese air space fired guided missiles at the T-4 base which killed seven members of the IRGC drone unit that launched the drone attack in February, including the unit’s Iranian commander.

But Iran has not backed off. Iran’s leaders are threatening to take revenge for Israel’s April 9 attack, and Israel’s military leaders are taking that threat seriously. Israeli troops guarding its northern borders are at their highest state of readiness in many years, and are preparing to counter another Iranian drone attack, or a guided missile launch.

US CONFIRMS IRANIAN MILITARY BUILDUP

Meanwhile, US officials have confirmed Israeli intelligence reports that Iran is building up its bases in Syria through a massive airlift of weapons and supplies using planes owned by two civilian Iranian airlines.

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary James Mattis answered a question from Senator Jack Reed about whether there’s a risk that the rising tensions with Iran in Syria could engulf the rest of the region. “I believe the short answer is yes, Senator,” Mattis replied. “I can see how it might start, I’m not sure when or where, I think that it’s very likely in Syria because Iran continues to do its proxy work there … I could imagine this sparking something larger.”

Mattis also told the committee he was concerned about the recent increase in Iranian arms shipments that the U.S. has observed. “We have seen them trying to bring advanced weaponry into Syria on its way to Lebanese Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israel is not going to wait until those missiles are in the air. Will it be cataclysmic? I hope not, I hope Iran pulls back,” Mattis said.

When asked by reporters at the Pentagon if he agreed that the weapons were being shipped to Syria for the purpose of attacking Israel, Mattis answered, “I can’t think of any other purpose for them right now.”

AIR STRIKES ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A REAL STRATEGY

Several other American and Israeli military and strategic experts have also been warning that the risk of the situation escalating into a full-scale war involving Israel in Syria is higher today than at any time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Within the Washington foreign policy establishment, opinion is divided over whether to support Israel’s campaign to prevent Iran from reinforcing its military foothold in Syria. While recognizing that, for the moment, Israel seems to have no other choice, some experts say that launching air strikes on Iranian bases in Syria is no substitute for a real strategy to solve the problem.

“There is a pathway to containing and deterring Iran in Syria … but it requires more than just Israel’s itchy trigger finger and cheerleading from the sidelines by Arab autocracies,” wrote Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution.

In Israel, a bipartisan consensus has developed which supports Netanyahu’s determination to do whatever it takes to stop the Iranian buildup in Syria, up to and including an all-out war.

The leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, is, according to the opinion polls, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s most popular political rival. Yet he also recently told Israel Army Radio that he supports the government’s determination to stymie Iran’s long-term ambitions in Syria.

“T-4 is no longer just a Syrian base, it is a Syrian-Iranian base,” Lapid said. “Israel has said — and we agree on this — that Israel will not accept an Iranian military presence in Syria and will not accept [Iran’s] creeping presence in Syria. This [Iranian aggression] has a price.”

ISRAEL READY TO ACT

Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel Radio last week, “No matter the price, we will not allow Iran to place a noose around Israel’s neck [from Syria].” He added that the only way to prevent a war with Iran “requires concrete, real deterrence as well as a readiness to act.”

On the eve of his visit to the US last week, Lieberman told the London-based Saudi-owned Elaph newspaper that if Iran ever tries to attack Tel Aviv, Israel “will strike Teheran and prevent Iran from establishing a forward military base in Syria, at any cost.”

Lieberman added, “We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily. If there is not silence in Tel Aviv and in Israel, there won’t be any in Teheran.”

His comment was a reaction to a threat by Ali Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric, to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel dares to take any “stupid measures” against Iran.

While in the US, Lieberman consulted with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and National Security Adviser John Bolton to discuss Israel’s changing military needs as it confronts the heightened Iranian threat along its northern border.

Lieberman also met with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is still trying to craft a broadly acceptable regionwide peace proposal, despite a boycott by the Palestinian Authority of all diplomatic contacts with Trump administration officials.

RUSSIA’S CHANGING ROLE IN SYRIA

Lieberman also said he was not intimidated by a Russian announcement that it plans to provide its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to protect Syrian airspace. That move was prompted by the coordinated cruise missile attack launched by the US, England and France on April 14 against the facilities which Assad used to launch another deadly chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians.

Lieberman said Israel would not hesitate to attack the Russian antiaircraft installations if they posed a threat to Israeli planes, even if they were being operated by Russian technicians. He insisted that the Israeli air force will be able to “maintain its freedom of operation in all of Syria,” and carry out its missions despite the new Russian systems.

In recent days, Russia has seemed to back off from its pledge to beef up Syria’s air defenses, perhaps due to an unwillingness to risk an unintended confrontation between the Russian and Israeli militaries in Syria.

In recent years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with Putin several times to work out procedures to prevent Russian forces in Syria from accidently clashing with Israeli planes attacking Hezbollah and Iranian targets.

Putin intervened directly on Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war in 2015 to preserve a good client for Russian-made armaments and to extend Russia’s influence in the region at a time when President Obama was reducing US involvement in the area.

Assad rewarded Putin for helping to rescue his regime by giving the Russian Navy permanent access to a port on the Mediterranean and allowing the Russian forces to establish an air base in Syria from which Russian planes provided Assad’s troops with combat air support.

Now that Putin has achieved the main goals of his intervention in Syria, many analysts believe he would prefer to quietly withdraw Russia’s military presence. At the same time, he cannot afford to be seen as pulling back from his commitment to protect Assad at a time when both Israel and the US have launched successful air attacks on Syrian targets protected by Russian-built air defense systems.

Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, has suggested that Putin may be the only individual today who is in position to convince both Israel and Iran to stand down. Yadlin explained that since “Iran is determined to entrench its positions in Syria, and Israel is determined to prevent them, conflict is inevitable unless Putin steps in to prevent it.”

ISRAEL’S LIMITED OBJECTIVES IN SYRIA

Lieberman also discussed the Iran threat at a public conference in New York City sponsored by the Jerusalem Post. The defense minister said that Israel currently faces three main security problems: “Iran, Iran, Iran.”

“Iran supports and creates proxies around Israel: Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They would not survive one week without Iranian support. Iran is also trying to destabilize the whole region, not only in Israel. Look at what is happening in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria,” he added.

Regarding whether Israel’s entry into the fighting in Syria could broaden its scope, Lieberman said, “We have no intention to attack Russia or to interfere in domestic Syrian issues, but if somebody thinks that it is possible to launch missiles or to attack Israel or even our aircraft, no doubt we will respond and we will respond very forcefully.”

Lieberman was careful to avoid reopening the bitterly partisan fight that Netanyahu triggered in 2015 by trying to persuade Congress to disapprove the newly negotiated Iran nuclear deal. The issue created deep partisanship within the American Jewish community.

He sidestepped the issue, saying. “It’s not our business. It is an American decision and they didn’t ask any advice from our side.”

“We understand that they have their ideas and their approach,” the Israeli defense minister said. “We can only speak to our position which is very clear. We think that it is a very, very bad deal which was a huge mistake and from our point of view there is no reason to have this deal.”

But when he said this, Lieberman knew that the Trump administration was already in close agreement with Israel on the Iran issue.

NETANYAHU WELCOMES THE NEW SECRETARY OF STATE

That same day in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu enthusiastically greeted Pompeo at the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv with a bear hug and a firm double handshake. He congratulated Pompeo on his new position as secretary of state and praised him as “a true friend of Israel, [and] a true friend of the Jewish people.”

Pompeo’s message that Trump is ready to walk away from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran if the deal can’t be fixed to his liking was exactly what Netanyahu wanted to hear. The prime minister also agreed with Pompeo’s condemnation of Iran’s “destabilizing and malign activities” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu responded by pointing out that Iran’s regional “aggression has grown many-fold since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. If people thought that Iran’s aggression would be moderated as a result of signing the deal, the opposite has happened. Iran is trying to gobble up one country after another. Iran must be stopped,” the prime minister declared.

Within hours of his confirmation as secretary of state, Pompeo was on his way to Brussels to explain Trump’s demands for changes in the Iran nuclear deal at a meeting with America’s NATO allies.

While Pompeo emphasized that, “There’s been no decision made,” President Trump has made it clear that “absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May,” Pompeo said.

For the European foreign ministers in Brussels, Pompeo’s visit was their first chance to assess the new secretary of state. Many predict that their dealings with Pompeo will be much easier to gauge if only because he appears to be much more in tune with the policies of his president than his predecessor Rex Tillerson was.

EUROPE RESISTS TRUMP’S DEMANDS FOR CHANGE

President Trump stuck to his demands for major changes in the Iran nuclear deal during his meetings last week with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump’s meeting with Merkel was courteous but accomplished little in the way of progress on the Iran issue. French president Macron tried hard to portray himself as in general agreement with Trump’s position on Iran.

In an address to a joint session of Congress last week, Macron declared that “Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons.” However, he also said that France will not abandon the nuclear deal it signed with Iran in 2015. Macron admitted that the agreement “may not address very important concerns,” but he insisted, “we should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead.”

Macron did endorse the key changes that Trump has called for in the original agreement. These include eliminating the sunset provisions which would cancel key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting in 2025. Trump also wants UN weapons inspectors to be given access to closed Iranian military sites, new restrictions placed on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and for Iran to be forced to halt its support for terrorist organizations. But Macron insists that these points should be included in a new agreement with Iran while leaving the original 2015 nuclear deal in place.

The problem with that approach is that Iran shows no sign of being willing to agree to any of Trump’s demands. Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that if Trump decides to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran will do the same. Trump responded angrily by warning that if Iran “restarts their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they ever had before.”

DELIVERING TRUMP’S MESSAGE ON IRAN

While Pompeo’s message opposing the Iran nuclear deal received a chilly reception in Brussels, it was more warmly received during his visits with the leaders of Saudi Arabia before his stop in Israel.

Standing alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Pompeo declared, “We are determined to make sure [Iran] never possesses a nuclear weapon. The Iran deal in its current form does not provide that assurance. We will continue to work with our European allies to fix that deal. But if a deal cannot be reached, the president has said that he will leave that deal.”

Pompeo added that the current nuclear deal with Iran “has failed to moderate the regime’s conduct in many areas. In fact, Iran has only behaved worse since the deal was approved.”

Pompeo’s senior policy adviser, Brian Hook, told reporters traveling with Pompeo that a high priority for the Trump administration is to get Europe and the rest of the international community to impose new sanctions on Iran if it does not agree to reign in its missile program, which has become a menace to Iran’s opponents in the region, such as Saudi Arabia.

WHO IS MIKE POMPEO?

As a Republican congressman from Kansas, Pompeo was a vehement opponent of the Iran nuclear deal when it came before Congress for approval in the summer of 2015.

Pompeo developed a good relationship with Trump when, as the director of CIA, he provided a daily intelligence briefing for the president. When Trump nominated Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, several American liberal Jewish groups urged the Senate to reject his confirmation. They accused Pompeo of being opposed to what they called “Jewish values” because he criticized American Muslim groups following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing for their failure to speak out condemning it.

But Benjamin Anthony, the founder of the Our Soldiers Speak organization, which advocates for Israeli army veterans, spoke out strongly on Pompeo’s behalf. Writing in a Ynet op-ed, Anthony attested to Pompeo’s personal interest in safeguarding Israel’s security from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as his statements while he was the director of the CIA demonstrating his recognition that, “the national interests of the United States are synonymous” with those of Israel.

Anthony attested to the sincerity of his support for the security of Israel, and for Pompeo’s personal character, having “shown himself to be that rarest of individuals, a man for whom there is no disparity between his words and his deeds.”

Shortly after he arrived in Israel, Pompeo called it “an incredibly important partner” for the US and said that it holds a “special place in my heart.”

POMPEO’S SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL

Advocates for Israel are quite pleased with the new members of Trump’s inner circle of White House advisors, including Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who all seem to share Trump’s instinctive support for Israel.

Former State Department Middle East envoy Aaron David Miller, who is now a policy expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that “Pompeo’s early and quick trip to the region, particularly to Israel,” was intended to send a signal that, unlike Tillerson, “the new secretary of state intends to become a dominant force in Middle East policymaking.”

In that vein, Pompeo joked with reporters that as secretary of state he had visited Netanyahu’s office as prime minister before he had a chance to see his own office at the State Department in Washington for the first time.

Pompeo expressed pride in Trump’s decision to recognize Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. “By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and seat of its government, we are recognizing reality,” he said.

PALESTINIANS UNINTERESTED IN TALKING PEACE

In his remarks to Netanyahu, Pompeo made a point of mentioning the administration’s commitment to the new Middle East peace plan that Jared Kushner and his team have been working on for more than a year, but it is clear that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his top advisors want no part of it.

Ever since December, when Trump announced that he was recognizing Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital, Abbas has cut off all diplomatic contacts with his administration.

The Palestinian boycott of American diplomats extends to Pompeo, even though as CIA director he went out of his way to maintain contact with Palestinian Authority leaders and was instrumental in setting up Abbas’ visit with Trump at the White House last May.

Palestinian officials told the New York Times that State Department officials never bothered to ask them to set up a meeting with Pompeo during his visit. But the Washington-based Arab American newspaper Al-Monitor reports that the PA did receive a request from US officials to set up a meeting between Pompeo and a senior Palestinian official, with the goal of lowering tensions between the two sides and giving Pompeo a chance to clarify the US position on Palestinians and the peace process. However, an anti-US faction of PA officials led by Saeb Erekat rejected the request out of hand.

The Trump administration insists that its recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital and the moving of the US embassy to the city were not intended to prejudge the outcome of future peace negotiations. However, it is undeniable that the attitude of Trump’s State Department toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed. A small but significant indication of that change was apparent in the latest edition of the State Department’s annual report on human rights violations around the world. The section whose title in previous editions had been “Israel and the Occupied Territories” has now been renamed “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.”

GRAHAM WANTS MORE MONEY FOR ISRAEL’S MISSILE DEFENSE

One of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, also wants to see a significant upgrade in US aid to help pay for Israel missile defense costs in light of the increased threat from Iran and its proxies.

The level of direct US military aid to Israel over the next decade was set in 2016 at $38 billion by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) negotiated between the Obama administration and the Israeli government.

Graham told the Jerusalem Post conference held in New York City on Sunday that he would ask President Trump to recommend a substantial increase in the $500 million annually that is earmarked for Israel’s defense.

When Israel agreed to accept the MOU that was offered by the Obama administration, it included a stipulation that it would not request additional defense funds from Congress except under emergency circumstances.

But Graham told the conference that the heightened current threat of war with Iran amounted to just such an emergency.

“This is a moment of historical significance,” Graham said. If Israel goes to war with Iran, “we [must] stand behind them, and we give them whatever we need.”

Graham, who has always been an outspoken critic of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration, said, “I want to applauded President Trump’s opposition to the agreement in its current form.”

Graham said that it was a fundamental mistake to grant Iran a right to enrich uranium on its own soil. He also criticized the deal because “It sets up a nuclear arms race. You’re telling your allies you can’t enrich and reprocess … but we’re allowing Iran, a mortal enemy of everyone in this room, to do it.”

But Graham disagreed with President Trump’s expressed desire to remove US troops from Syria once ISIS is defeated, while allowing Iran to build a permanent military presence there, which would link up with its terrorist proxy forces in Iraq and Lebanon.

Instead, Graham urged President Trump to set up no-fly zones in Syria. “This is a very big thing, Mr. President,” Graham said. “We can’t get this one wrong.”

DIVISION GROWING INSIDE IRAN

The growing tensions between the US and Iran and the rising risk of war with Israel over Iran’s military presence in Syria comes at a time of growing discontent within Iran with the regime’s economic priorities.

According to an op-ed analysis by Anshel Pfeffer published in the Times of London, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani disagreed with the decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “to proceed with the IRGC’s plans to establish permanent bases in Syria.” Pfeffer says Rouhani would have preferred to spend the huge amounts of money the Syrian bases will cost Iran on rescuing its failing domestic economy.

Instead, Pfeffer wrote, the ayatollah accepted the IRGC’s plan “to capitalize on the investment Iran has made in propping up the Assad regime for the past seven years.”

The decision reflects the ayatollah’s belief that the Islamic revolution’s highest priority is not the welfare of Iran’s people but rather spreading its ideology to other nations across the region and around the world.

IRAN’S ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

Iran’s economy has been neglected ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Since that time, real income per capita in Iran grew by an average of 0.5 percent a year and hasn’t grown at all in the past decade. Iran used to be an industrial-technological power. Today, Iran’s consumers have to turn to the black market to satisfy their demands for quality goods from the West and neighboring Arab countries.

Iran’s oil sector, which is the sole source of foreign currency for its economy, is still short $200 billion in investments needed to revive its long-neglected oil and gas industries. Instead, Iran’s leaders chose to spend the wealth that oil had generated on the effort to develop nuclear weapons, which brought on the international sanctions that further crippled Iran’s economy.

Since those sanctions were lifted three years ago, the citizens of Iran have seen almost none of the resulting economic benefits.

The unemployment rate among young Iranians has reached 28 percent, only 15 percent of Iran’s women participate in its labor force, and the real value of Iran’s currency, the rial, is dozens of percentage points below the official exchange rate.

Meanwhile, much of Iran’s wealth is in corrupt hands. 45 percent of the entire Iranian economy is owned by the government. About one-third is owned by the Revolutionary Guard and one-fifth is owned by religious associations which are subject to the sole control of Iran’s supreme Islamic leader.

WHAT HAPPENS IF TRUMP REIMPOSES SANCTIONS?

While the ayatollah and the leaders of the Revolutionary Guard say they are willing to risk a war with Israel in order to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and realizing their dream of constructing a continuous Shiite arc, other Iranian leaders know their country is already economically overextended, and fear Iran is risking disaster by starting a war in Syria with Israel’s powerful military.

If President Trump does decide to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose the crippling US economic sanctions which were suspended when the deal was signed, the impact on the Iranian regime could be much greater than many experts now predict.

The escalating confrontation between Iran and Israel in Syria poses a risk of starting a disastrous war between Israel and Iran. But as seen in Trump’s handling of the intractable North Korean crisis, his unconventional tactics can lead to unexpected progress.

As Israel faces this serious threat, we daven that Hashem will watch over His people and bring peace to His land.