According to Tzuriel, the most important development in Syria of late has been the strengthening of the Iranian- Shi’a axis there.
Reports that Iran is building workshops and facilities to make advanced rockets inside Lebanon is a “huge development” that constitutes a “whole new kind of threat,” Chagai Tzuriel, director- general of the Intelligence Ministry, said Monday.
Tzuriel, at a briefing organized by The Israel Project, attributed the reports to a Kuwaiti newspaper, but seemed to accept their veracity. If true, it would mean the Iranians and Hezbollah are trying to get around the difficulty of transferring arms over land through Syria to Lebanon by manufacturing them there instead. Israel reportedly, on a number of occasions, has attacked convoys moving potentially “game-changing” armaments over land through Syria.
In addition to the weaponry, Iran continues to provide Hezbollah with $1 billion a year.
Tzuriel said Hezbollah has an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 of its best fighters in Syria, and has lost approximately 1,700 men in the war there with thousands others wounded.
Today, Tzuriel said, the most important strategic issue in the region for Israel is not Iran’s nuclear capability, but rather “Iran in the region.”
The nuclear issue is “always high on the agenda,” but it is a threat that – because of the deal reached with the US in 2015 – will become more dangerous in five, eight and 10 years. But more immediately pressing, he said, is Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge stretching from Iran, through Iraq, Syria and then into Lebanon – a land bridge that could be complete in the near future when Mosul is expected to be wrenched free of Islamic State control.
“The greatest state threat facing Israel is Iran,” he said. “The greatest non-state threat comes from Hezbollah, it has the greatest damage potential. And the greatest non-state threat in terms of volatility is Hamas. Gaza is volatile both militarily, as well as from a humanitarian point of view.”
With that being said, the most important strategic arena right now is Syria, he added, calling it a “microcosm of much of the international regional and local relationships and power balances.”
What happens in Syria – where the world superpowers are vying, as well as regional powers, local elements, and a diverse group of ethnic and religious groups – “will influence to a large extent what happens in the region and the world,” he said.
“Syria is an exporter of terrorism and refugees and immigrants, and just that has already changed the social and economic make-up or reality in the neighboring countries, specifically Jordan, but also in Lebanon and other countries,” he said. “I think we can say that it changed the political and social fabric in Europe, and I think it would not be far fetched to say it influenced, to large extent, the Brexit and the elections in the US.”
According to Tzuriel, the most important development in Syria of late has been the strengthening of the Iranian- Shi’a axis there. Jerusalem, he said, believes that if Iran bases itself in Syria over the long run it will be a constant source of friction not only with Israel, but also with the Sunni majority in Syria, Sunni countries outside Syria and Sunni minorities outside the region.
Regarding Russia’s involvement in Syria, Tzuriel said it is “a dominant player and is not going anywhere. I think their profile may change, but they are here to stay. We need to understand this and cope with it. For us, Russia is not an enemy, despite selling advanced weapons to Iran.”
He added: “The dialogue we have with Russia, alongside our most important dialogue with the US – our most important strategic partner – has the potential of influencing the outcome of the final future picture in Syria.”