Early Saturday, February 10, 2018 an Iranian stealth drone, designed in part based on captured American technology and capable of carrying smart precision bombs, took off from an airbase in Syria and penetrated Israeli air space. After the drone was downed by an Israeli helicopter, Israeli jets launched a strike on the base from which the drone had taken off.
During the raid an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was struck by Syrian air defense missiles and heavily damaged. The pilots were able to get the aircraft back to Israeli air space before they were forced to eject, but the aircraft crashed and burned shortly thereafter. One of the pilots remains in critical condition.
In response to the destruction of the Iranian drone, which began the incident, Iranian Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps stated that Iran would "open the gates of hell over the Zionist regime" and had the military power to destroy all American bases in the region. Salami added that "It would be better for them (the Americans) to leave the region before their defeat."
The Syrian missiles that hit the Israeli F-16 are part of a system operated with and commanded by Russian military forces based at Kheimim in Syria. When a second wave of Israeli air raids were launched following the downing of the F-16 Israeli aircraft came under attack from air defense missiles fired from Lebanon and belonging to the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group Hezbollah. These missiles were of Russian manufacture and were supplied to Hezbollah by Iran.
Only days before the Iranian drone incursion, the two main Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq issued a warning to US forces in that country to leave or face the consequences. Kata'ib Hezbollah spokesman Jafar al-Hussaini stated, "Our combatants have limited weapons but a confrontation with the American forces may begin at any moment. Unlike in the past, the Americans this time will not benefit from any mediation," he added.
None of these events occurred in isolation. All of them were linked. We are busy congratulating ourselves on the destruction of ISIS. The next war has already begun, and its scope and its consequences may well dwarf anything we have seen for a very long time.
When Barack Obama came into office in 2009, Russia had long since been rendered impotent in the Middle East and Iran was walled off in isolation based on a bipartisan containment policy that had been in place since 1979. Putin might snipe at American policy from the sidelines and Iran might do its best to export radicalism and terror where it could, but none of that changed the reality that the United States, Israel and the Sunni Arab allies dictated what happened in the Middle East.
No more. Based on a sad, juvenile world view, which held that relations with Russia could be "reset", that Iran could be a constructive force on the world stage and that we, the United States, were probably to blame for most of the world's problems, Obama and his equally incompetent subordinates, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, presided over a series of foreign policy debacles likely unprecedented in American history.
Ten years later the smoking ruins of this failed policy are hard to miss. Iraq is once again claiming victory over a Sunni insurgency, but appears every day to be one step closer to becoming a client state of Tehran and an enemy of the United States. Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia, clones of Lebanese Hezbollah, number over 100,000 men. They have held their fire against American forces so far, but with increasing frequency are demanding US personnel depart.
Syria is a charred wasteland divided amongst warring factions. The rump state of Syria, what remains of Assad's regime, is kept in power by a mixture of Iranian forces, Hezbollah fighters and Russian air power. None of these are friendly to American or Israeli interests. All intend to continue the fight until US forces and US allies are driven from the field.
Lebanon is a fully owned subsidiary of Hezbollah and by extension Iran. Its flag is all that remains of a once sovereign nation. There are 150,000 missiles and rockets in Lebanon under Hezbollah control and aimed at Israel. Hezbollah leaders regularly proclaim that the next war with Israel is fast approaching and that it will be fought on Israeli soil. They are deadly serious about both assertions.
Last week, Ayatollah Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi, the designated successor to Iran's Supreme Leader, toured the Lebanese-Israeli border in the company of Hezbollah and Iranian military commanders. The imagery could not have been more powerful or clearer. Iran is, quite literally standing on the borders of Israel.
Iran has escaped the box in which our policy kept it for decades. It is running amok across the Middle East in league with surrogates like Hezbollah and opportunists like the Russians, who operate on the principle that anything that harms the US helps them. President Obama is gone, but a coherent policy to replace his is as yet unseen.
Our short-sighted decision to subordinate all other concerns in Iraq to the fight against ISIS continues to cripple our policies there to this day. While the Iranians are moving aggressively to cement their control in Baghdad and to prepare for the next war, we are floundering around clinging to the fiction that we are working with a coalition of like-minded individuals desirous of a democratic Iraq.
Iran is bent on the domination of the Middle East. In the near term that means the subjugation of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, something already very close to complete. Next will come the physical destruction of the state of Israel. We are already seeing the first scenes in that play unfold.
We are running behind and running out of time. We cannot abandon the fight against Sunni extremism, but we have to stop allowing that conflict to blind us to the other threats we face. The greatest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East right now is a newly ascendant Iran, and we need to move quickly to refocus our policies in the Middle East on that menace.
The next war has already begun.