Iran poses the “greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests” in the region covered by United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which includes the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, CENTCOM’s commander told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.
“Iran poses the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interests of our partners and allies,” Gen. Joseph Votel wrote in testimony submitted to Congress. Iran’s behavior has not been moderated by the nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and the global powers in July 2015, he observed. To the contrary: “Iran aspires to be a regional hegemon and its forces and proxies oppose U.S. interests in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria, and seek to hinder U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and some Central Asian States.” Furthermore, “[t]hey have a robust theater ballistic missile program, and we remain concerned about their cyber and maritime activities, as well as the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) and their network of affiliates.”
Votel emphasized that Iran operates in what he called a “gray zone,” a murky space short of military confrontation, but that serves as a trigger point that can easily lead to communication breakdowns and miscalculations. “Iran fosters instability by funding and promoting a threat network that employs provocation, violence, and covert arms transfers that serve as the stimulants for a range of conflicts across the region,” he wrote. This includes Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, its propping up of the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and its sending of funds, arms, and advisors to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Votel’s testimony tallies with what he told Congress a year ago: that Iran has become “more aggressive in the days since the [Iran nuclear] agreement.”
The Palestinian terror group Hamas vowed revenge for the killing of terror mastermind Mazen Faqha in a new video released on Wednesday. Threatening and provocative, the video features Israel’s top defense and security officials in the crosshairs of a gun, Ynet reported.
After revealing images of Israeli security leaders — Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Mossad director Yossi Cohen, Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and IDF Oz Brigade Commander David Zini — the video warns, “the type of retribution will be in accordance to the act.” A bullet is then seen being placed in the chamber of a gun.
“The enemy uprooted one of our heroes in Gaza,” Hamas official Khaled Meshaal said on Monday in reference to the death of Faqha and other Hamas terrorists who have died in mysterious circumstances recently. “It settled the score with one of our own who was released from prison. It’s an open battle and we, the leaders, accept the challenge.”
A sign was subsequently posted in the Khan Younis neighborhood of Gaza with Meshaal’s promise, “challenge accepted,” written on it.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Hamas had produced short-range rockets with much higher explosive power in order to threaten communities bordering Gaza. Another report released last week stated that Hamas is seeking more advanced software to target sites in Israel more accurately.
The IDF concluded in February that Hamas had succeeded in building 15 tunnels into Israel, which could potentially be used to kidnap and harm Israelis. Veteran Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel assessed last month that Hamas was fully capable of initiating attacks against Israeli communities near the Gaza border using its network of tunnels.
All is not quiet on the northern front--
Iran is a greater threat to Israel than ISIS and, due to recent gains made by the Shiite axis in the Syrian civil war, is an imminent one, an Israeli minister told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. “It’s very easy and convenient to focus on ISIS,” said Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister. “But we have two challenges in Syria. One is ISIS and one is Iran. The greater threat is coming from Iran, and not just from its nuclear program. The most immediate and urgent threat is the Iranian plan to transform Syria, after this horrible, brutal civil war is over, into some kind of extension of Iran.”
Steinitz expressed serious concerns about what will happen in the aftermath of the war in Syria. “What will we get on our northern border?” he asked. “Shall we face a weakened Syria, or a stronger Iran instead?” If an Iranian stronghold is forged on the eastern Mediterranean, Steinitz warned, “it is going to be a new Middle East and the entire Arab Peninsula will actually be encircled by Iranian forces.”
Chagai Tzuriel, the director-general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, told The Times of Israel earlier this month, “The most important strategic issue we’re currently facing is the strengthening of the Shiite axis led by Iran in Syria, especially after the fall of Aleppo.” Because of Bashar al-Assad’s recent military victories, most strikingly the reconquest of Aleppo, the regime has been able to boost its presence in the northern Golan and is having success in the southern Golan as well. Already, veteran Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted, “Israel suspects that several Hezbollah operatives have...resumed operations near the border fence under the aegis of the regime’s advance.”
Terror, pass over us--
The IDF carried out its largest exercise in five years in the West Bank ahead of the Passover holiday, The Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.
The four-day drill consisted of simulations of "a variety of scenarios and emergency situations such as settlement infiltrations, abductions of Israeli citizens, bombings, vehicular or shooting attacks, and large-scale riots."
An assessment of the preparedness of the forces was given to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Command of the Central Command Maj.-Gen. Roni Numa.
Security forces increase their level of alerts during Jewish holidays.
This week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the devastating terror attack at the Passover seder in the Park Hotel in Netanya that left 29 people dead and 64 injured. The attack precipitated Operation Defensive Shield in which the IDF targeted the terror infrastructure that had been built up in the West Bank following Israel's withdrawal from the major population centers in 1995 as part of the Oslo Accords.
In testimony before the Knesset's influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said that "there is no doubt that terrorist infrastructures, mostly the established one, and specifically Hamas, will try to agitate the area and carry out attacks" during the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover.