The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Iran allegedly sold Syria an advanced radar system in an arms transfer that took place in mid-2009. The article did not disclose the name of the radar technology, but did say that the arms transfer was confirmed by both Israeli and American intelligence officials.
The radar transfer is yet another episode in the ongoing Iran-Syria-Hezbollah defense alliance. It also demonstrates that the 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution banning Iranian arms sales to foreign nations is indeed feckless. If this report is accurate, the radar transfer will benefit all three players in this Shia power axis.
Hezbollah: The radar system will most likely aid Hezbollah in its ongoing insurgency campaign on Israel’s northern border by warning insurgents of Israeli F-16 sorties. While the radar technology is unknown to the general public at this point, it may also serve to help coordinate Hezbollah rocket attacks into Israel.
Syria: New radar technology will serve Syria because it will help shield its borders (including the Golan Heights) from another preemptive strike by Israel. On September 6, 2007, IDF fighter planes preemptively attacked a secret nuclear facility near the Syrian town of Dayr az-Zawr, close to the Iraqi border. While Israeli government officials officially denied involvement in the bombing, it is widely believed that this strike stunted Syria’s nuclear ambitions. A new radar system on Syrian soil would make future attacks far more risky.
Iran: The radar transfer benefits Tehran in a number of ways. First, it provides Iran with a forward operating radar system on Israel’s border, effectively preventing an IDF sneak attack against Iran’s nuclear program. Second, it diverts American and European attention away from Iranian nuclear ambitions by creating a more immediate security concern between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Finally, it strengthens Iran’s ability to launch yet another sophisticated proxy war against Israel via Hezbollah and Hamas. Since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Israeli intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah’s rocket and missile cache has grown to over 40,000. Any hint of a preemptive attack on Iran by Israel or the US is sure to light a dangerous fuse in the Levant.
The loser in this defense alliance (besides the United States and Europe) is Lebanon, whose fledgling democracy is on life support due to the alliance between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Lebanon’s hopes for political autonomy will continue to shrink as long as there is an open arms smuggling route from Tehran to Lebanon via Damascus.
What is unknown is how Turkey will react to the growing strength of its neighbors. In recent months, Istanbul has warmed to Tehran and Damascus over Prime Minister Erdogan’s proposed nuclear-swap deal. Western observers will have to wait and see if the growing power of Iran and Syria work counter to the Turkish national interest.