PILON MILITARY BASE, Israel: With President Bashar Assad seemingly poised to survive the Syrian civil war, Israeli leaders are growing nervous about the intentions of his Iranian patrons and their emerging corridor of influence across the region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is agitating against Iran in global forums like this week’s U.N. General Assembly. The Israeli military is holding war games targeting Hezbollah, and generals are issuing tough threats in hopes of avoiding what could be another ruinous Israeli entanglement in Lebanon, this time with Iranian advisers and troops on Israel’s doorstep.
Israel has long identified Iran as its biggest threat, citing its suspect nuclear program, development of long-range missiles and hostile rhetoric. But gains by Syrian troops and their Iranian-backed allies have given those concerns new urgency.
Israel fears the establishment of a Shiite “corridor,” with land links from Iran to Lebanon, allowing the movement of fighters and weapons across the region. At the heart of those fears is Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that battled Israel to a stalemate in a monthlong war in 2006. The group has greatly beefed up its arsenal of rockets and missiles since then, and after years of fighting in Syria, is more battle-tested than ever.
In his U.N. address Tuesday, Netanyahu warned that Iran was spreading a “curtain of tyranny and terror” across the region, and said Israel would defend itself.