At the same time, Israel has a window of opportunity to increase its operations against Iranian entrenchment in the Middle East due to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s regional goals and has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of it’s “war-between-wars” campaign to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against the Jewish state.
However, according to the assessment, while Iran is moving forward with its program, Israel has a window of opportunity to increase its operations against Iranian entrenchment in the Middle East due to the assassination of the architect of the Islamic Republic’s hegemonic aspirations, Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani, who was killed in a targeted assassination by the United States in early January, was the Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force in charge of Iran’s regional aspirations and had been busy establishing a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean as well as Iranian influence in Yemen.
Under Soleimani’s command, thousands of Shi’ite militia fighters and weaponry were deployed around the region including along Israel’s northern border. It is believed that Iran’s aspirations for regional hegemony is of paramount importance for the regime, using its nuclear program to deter Western countries from acting against it.
Facing a grave economic crisis and widespread protests, according to Israeli assessments, the Iranian regime will have to make several tough decisions over the next year including whether to continue their nuclear program as well as their aspirations to once again see the Persian Empire spread throughout the region.
Viewed by Tehran as a buffer zone, Iraq is of greater importance to Tehran than Syria, as shown by the high number of visits by Soleimani before his death.
In late December, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi hinted what foreign reports attributed to Israel, striking targets in the country. But like Syria, Iraq is a weak state with multiple powers struggling to retain influence on the government.
Soleimani’s successor – his deputy, Gen. Esmail Qaani – vowed to continue his path “with the same force” and that he will work to remove the American presence of 85,000 troops from the Middle East.
But Qaani is not as charismatic nor fluent in Arabic or as close to Khamenei. And while he cannot be ignored, his impact on the situation on the ground in command of close to 200,000 militiamen is yet to be seen.
Qaani will also likely have less of an influence on Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, who – like Soleimani – is seen as an icon of the resistance.
Due to the group’s fighting in Syria on the side of the regime, Hezbollah has gained instrumental battlefield experience and has become bolder. Under Soleimani, the group also began a precision missile project on Lebanese and Syrian soil, a major concern to Israel.
Following Soleimani’s death, Nasrallah will have more independence; and it is not clear if he will continue with the project, as it is not a priority for him as it was for Iran.
But Hezbollah, under Nasrallah’s command, is still one of the main threats facing Israel and despite neither side wanting war, any small confrontation can ignite a tinderbox of war on a level never seen before.
Though Israeli intelligence assessment view the chance for war as being low, Soleimani was considered as a poster boy in Iran, an icon. His death shook the Middle East and the fallout from the end of the Soleimani era is yet to be fully felt.