An interview with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of staff.
“We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”
So says Gadi Eisenkot about the Jewish state’s undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. For his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces before he retires next week, the general has decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit.
Eisenkot’s central intellectual contribution in fighting that campaign is the concept of “the campaign between wars” — the idea that continuous, kinetic efforts to degrade the enemy’s capabilities both lengthens the time between wars and improves the chances of winning them when they come. He also believes that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza.
“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you.”
This thinking is what led Eisenkot to become the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere. And it’s how he succeeded in humbling, at least for the now, Qassim Suleimani, the wily commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran’s ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.
.. “We operated under a certain threshold until two-and-a-half years ago,” Eisenkot explains, referring to Israel’s initial policy of mainly striking weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “And then we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”
By 2016, Eisenkot estimates, Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.
In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.
Why did Suleimani — the subtle, determined architect of Iran’s largely successful efforts to entrench itself in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon — miscalculate? Eisenkot suggests a combination of overconfidence, based on Iran’s success in rescuing Assad’s regime from collapse, and underestimation of Israel’s determination to stop him, based on the West’s history of shrinking in the face of Tehran’s provocations.
“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”
“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he adds a little scornfully, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”
Eisenkot seems to feel similarly about Hezbollah and its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The group had devised a three-pronged strategy to invade and conquer (even if briefly) at least a part of Israel’s northern Galilee: building factories in Lebanon that could produce precision-guided missiles, excavating attack tunnels under the Israeli border and setting up a second front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
So far, the plan has failed. The factories were publicly exposed and the tunnels destroyed. Israel continues to attack Hezbollah positions on the Golan, most recently last month against an intelligence position in the village of Tel el Qudne (also previously unreported).
“I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he says. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”
That means Hezbollah is unlikely to soon start another war with Israel. Suleimani has pulled his forces back from the border with Israel and withdrawn some altogether. The resumption of U.S. sanctions has also put a squeeze on Iran’s ability to finance its regional adventures. Israel also thought it had won a reprieve of sorts when John Bolton indicated the U.S. would not quickly withdraw from Syria, thereby obstructing Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge to Damascus, though that reversal seems to have been reversed yet again.
Iran may now turn elsewhere. “As we push them in Syria,” Eisenkot says, “they transfer their efforts to Iraq,” where the U.S. still has thousands of troops. Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren’t invincible.
As usual, the president makes his predecessors look better.
Suppose you’re the type of smart conservative reluctantly inclined to give Donald Trump a pass for his boorish behavior and ideological heresies because you like the way the economy is going and appreciate the tough tone of his foreign policy, especially when it comes to Islamic fundamentalism.
These last few weeks haven’t exactly validated your faith in the man, have they?
.. The president has abruptly undermined Israel’s security following a phone call with an Islamist strongman in Turkey. So much for the idea, common on the right, that this is the most pro-Israel administration ever.
.. Contrary to the invidious myth that neoconservatives always put Israel first, the reasons for staying in Syria have everything to do with core U.S. interests. Among them: Keeping ISIS beaten, keeping faith with the Kurds, maintaining leverage in Syria and preventing Russia and Iran from consolidating their grip on the Levant.
.. Powers that maintain a reputation as reliable allies and formidable foes tend to enhance their power. Powers that behave as Trump’s America has squander it.
.. But leave that aside and consider the Trump presidency from a purely Israeli standpoint. Are Israelis better off now that the U.S. Embassy is in Jerusalem? Not materially. The move was mostly a matter of symbolism, albeit of an overdue and useful sort. Are Israelis safer from Iran now that the U.S. is no longer in the Iran deal and sanctions are back in force? Only marginally. Sanctions are a tool of strategy, not a strategy unto themselves.
.. What Israel most needs from the U.S. today is what it needed at its birth in 1948: an America committed to defending the liberal-international order against totalitarian enemies, as opposed to one that conducts a purely transactional foreign policy based on the needs of the moment or the whims of a president.
.. From that, everything follows. It means that the U.S. should not
- sell out small nations — whether it was Israel in 1973 or Kuwait in 1990 — for the sake of currying favor with larger ones. It means we should
- resist interloping foreign aggressors, whether it was the
- Soviets in Egypt in the 1960s, or the
- Russians and Iranians in Syria in this decade. It means we should
- oppose militant religious fundamentalism, whether it is
- Wahhabis in Riyadh or Khomeinists in Tehran or Muslim Brothers in Cairo and Ankara. It means we should
- human rights,
- civil liberties, and
- democratic institutions, in that order.
Trump has stood all of this on its head.
He shows no interest in pushing Russia out of Syria. He has neither articulated nor pursued any coherent strategy for pushing Iran out of Syria. He has all but invited Turkey to interfere in Syria. He has done nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to arm Hezbollah. He shows no regard for the Kurds. His fatuous response to Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi is that we’re getting a lot of money from the Saudis.
He speaks with no authority on subjects like press freedom or religious liberty because he assails both at home. His still-secret peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians will have the rare effect of uniting Israelis and Palestinians in their rejection of it
.. If you think the gravest immediate threat to Israel is jihadist Hezbollah backed by fundamentalist Iran backed by cynical Russia, the answer is no.
.. If you think the gravest middle-term threat is the continued Islamization of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan — gradually transforming the country into a technologically competent Sunni version of Iran — the answer is no.
.. If you think that another grave threat to Israel is the inability to preserve at least a vision of a future Palestinian state — one that pursues good governance and peace with its neighbors while rejecting kleptocracy and terrorism — the answer is no.
And if you think that the ultimate long-term threat to Israel is the resurgence of isolationism in the U.S. and a return to the geopolitics of every nation for itself, the answer is more emphatically no.
Trump, by taking a hard line on Iran, drew some needed attention to Iran’s bad behavior and created an opportunity to improve the nuclear deal. But to do so would have required Trump to admit that there was merit in the deal Obama had forged and to be content with limited, but valuable, fixes that our European allies likely would have embraced.
.. Instead, Trump pushed for the max, torched the whole bridge, separating us from Germany, France and Britain, undermining the forces of moderation in Iran.
.. Color me dubious that a president who has not been able to manage his confrontation with a stripper, or prevent leaks in his White House, can manage a multifront strategy for confronting Iran and North Korea and trade wars with China, Europe and Mexico.
.. Obama’s view of the Middle East was that it was an outlier region, where a toxic brew of religious extremism, tribalism, oil, corruption, climate change and mis-governance made positive change from outside impossible; it had to come from within. By the end of his eight years, Obama was skeptical of all the leaders in the Middle East — Iranian, Arab and Israeli — and of their intentions.
.. It made Obama a policy minimalist on the Middle East: keep it simple and focus on the biggest threat.
.. By lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the deal, Obama hoped Iran would become integrated into the world and moderate the regime.
.. By contrast, Trump’s team is made up of maximalists. They want to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program, reverse its imperialistic reach into the Sunni Arab world, require Iran to accept terms that would ensure it could never ever enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb, and, if possible, induce regime change in Tehran.
.. in almost every country the alternative to autocracy turned out not to be democracy, but disorder or military dictatorship. If Iran, a country of 80 million people, was to go the way of Syria, it would destabilize the entire Middle East, and refugees would pour into Europe.
.. Iran has projected its power deep into the Arab world. But that was not because of money it got from the nuclear deal and sanctions relief, as argued by Trump & friends. It was because of the weakness of the Sunni Arab states and their internecine fighting, which created power vacuums that Iran has filled
.. Israel gets censured for implanting settlements deep into the West Bank. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates get censured for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. But the Iranians have gotten away with murder, mass murder, at home and abroad — with virtually no censure.
.. In Syria, Iran’s special forces and its mercenary recruits — Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon and Shiite hired guns from Central Asia — have helped President Bashar al-Assad perpetrate a ruthless genocide against Syrian Sunnis, including the use of poison gas, in order to maintain a pro-Shiite, pro-Iranian dictatorship in Damascus.
.. “The aim … is changing the demography” of Syria by settling Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen “from Afghanistan, Lebanon and other countries in the region … to fill the demographic vacuum” left by the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their civil war.
.. Rather than scrapping the deal, he should have told the Europeans that all he wanted to stay in the deal were three fixes:
1. Extend the ban on Iran’s enriching of uranium to weapons grade from the original 15 years Obama negotiated to 25 years.
2. Europe and the U.S. agree to impose sanctions if Iran ever attempts to build a missile with a range that could hit Europe or America.
3. The U.S. and Europe use diplomacy to spotlight and censure Iran’s “occupations” of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
Erik Prince joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily to talk about the Iran nuclear deal, chances that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps will be designated a terrorist organization
.. Prince said failing to apply such a designation to the IRGC would be “ludicrous.”
“These guys have been killing Americans, specifically, since soon after they were formed in the early 1980s,” he pointed out.
- “The Marine barracks in Beirut, 243 Americans in 1983; kidnapped, tortured, videotaped it,
- the CIA station chief in Beirut in the 1980s;
- blew up the U.S. embassy there,
- Khobar Towers, and then even
- the last ten years that the U.S. was in Iraq.”
.. All of the explosive formed penetrators, it’s a very very nasty roadside bomb,” he elaborated on Iraq. “It’s not an improvised explosive. It’s very much a manufactured explosive, designed to cut through even the very expensive armor on an Abrams tank. Literally, the IRGC is responsible for killing and maiming hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers in Iraq.”
.. “And we still don’t designate these guys a terrorist organization. Why? Because they’re worried that this terrorist organization might actually reciprocate and carry out a terrorist attack against America. It’s ludicrous,” he said.
.. “As part of this nuclear deal, they were supposed to make all nuclear facilities open to inspection. They’re cheating on that. They are continuing to develop their ballistic missile technology.”
“You also have to realize that Iran and North Korea, when it comes to nuclear weapons development, are totally in sync and in parallel,” he added. “When the North Koreans crank off a nuke underground, the Iranians are there observing it, and they’ve provided considerable funding for it.”
.. as recently as October 1, 12 days ago, an American soldier was killed in Iraq by an explosive formed penetrator. They have been sticking it to us since 1979 and will continue to do so. What’s announced today will not really reject the Iranian nuclear deal. It will dump it back on Congress, which really won’t do anything on it,” he predicted.
.. “What Congress should have done – what Senator Corker should have forced – is that when the Obama administration pushed the Iran nuclear deal, they should have forced a vote in the Senate,” he said. “If we’re going to treat it like a treaty, vote it up or down like a treaty.
.. If the president went with his initial instincts on this stuff, he’d be hitting it out of the park,” said Prince, who had proposed a plan to President Trump for using private security forces instead of more military personnel in Afghanistan. “Some of these very Establishment foreign policy advisers are giving advice indiscernible from what they’d be giving Hillary Clinton. It’s taken him off track.”
.. Prince described Iran as “a society that puts a thousand stitches into a square inch in a Persian rug.”
“They understand methodical. They are very patient, and very deliberate, and they continue to move the ball in their direction, as this so-called nuclear deal did.
.. “As part of the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, there are supposed to be complete inspections, but secret nuclear sites scattered about the country – it’s a very large country, a lot of remote, rugged terrain – certainly those aren’t being inspected,” he said.
.. “If we make deals with people who are actively trying to kill us, who continue to call the United States the Great Satan, that hasn’t changed. They continue to kill Americans, as recently as October 1. They are not our friends, far from it. If we’re not careful, they will continue to eat our lunch, one bite at a time,” he warned.
.. but will not “sanction the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization.”
“Those are the guys that are driving this nuclear program,” he said. “If you sanction the entire IRGC, you can then go after all of their front companies and money-making apparatus, which trades through the world, through West Africa, money laundering for the drug cartels to front businesses in Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. You can start to crimp off their financing.”
.. “If you don’t do that, if you don’t call a terrorist a terrorist, you can’t really take action against them,”
.. Prince humorously identified it as the “bureaucratic SITS method: Show Interest, Then Stall.”
.. “They are desperately trying to secure the Shia Crescent that goes from Iran all the way to Lebanon, where they can continue to arm Hezbollah, their surrogate there, with larger and larger rockets to dominate Israel, and Jordan for that matter. They’re continuing to advance in their dominance in Yemen and elsewhere.”
.. “We don’t have a beef with the Iranian people, believe me,” Prince added. “The Iranian people want to be Western. They want to have freedom, and drink beer, and listen to rock and roll. They are effectively led by a government that looks more and more like the SS in Nazi Germany – an Iranian Shia fascist government that is far from elected, that imposes itself on every aspect of the Iranian citizen’s life, to the detriment of what should be a very proud and very prosperous country.”
.. Turning to Afghanistan, Prince said President Trump’s decision to send another 4,000 U.S. troops is “unlikely to move the needle.”
.. “When Secretary Mattis traveled to Afghanistan just a couple of weeks ago for an update, he landed in Kabul, and he has to get on a helicopter to fly one mile across the town to where the U.S. base is. He can’t get in a vehicle to drive, just like any person from the U.S. Embassy operating there has to take a helicopter from the Kabul airport into downtown, because it’s not safe to drive,” he observed.
.. “And within two hours of Secretary Mattis landing, 40 rockets hit Kabul airport, in a five-hour firefight to try to secure the airport again,” he added. “This is not what winning looks like.”
.. “I was there on the ball when the president said in his inaugural speech, ‘We’re going to drive Islamic terrorism off the face of the Earth.’ I don’t think he intended that means the terrorists are driving captured U.S. vehicles across the Afghan terrain,” said Prince.