Friday’s conversation on US-Israel cooperation over Iran was wonderful. It highlighted the fact the United States and Israel, despite the very loud ‘red line’ campaigning by a certain head of state, are on the same page and generally agree on the way forward on Iran.
In my mind there are a couple lingering issues: the covert option and the mess that is Syria.
From what I got from the presentation is that sanctions and diplomacy are preferred to attacking as any overt attack would be costly, complex, and won’t necessarily achieve the desired end goal. In this context, sanctions raise costs of operation for Iran and diplomacy offers a way out, basically a legally and financially complex form of attrition; raise costs to the point where your adversary agrees to your terms or is willing to negotiate terms.
So where do we place the covert option like sabotage? Its the more “physical” aspect of the legal and financial attrition that sanctions provide. Sanctions and sabotage all raise the costs of maintaining a nuclear program while diplomacy gives the Iranian government a way out. Though, I think in terms of cooperation the United States and Israel tend to over emphasize sanctions and sabotage over diplomacy, and there isn’t really a gap in regards to covert action.
The developing gap seems to be over what to do with Syria. The United States, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia fall on the side of downing Assad albeit each is acting more or less independently, Iran and Hezbollah are on the side of propping up Assad, where can we place Israel?
For a moment imagine the difficulty that is in front of Israel: for decades they have built up intelligence networks in, out, and around the Assad regime, and suddenly one day they find out that the networks that have been carefully cultivated for years are actually on the wrong side of the war. Factor in that there is a good deal of evidence pointing to the fact arms flows to Syria are aiding the most extreme insurgent groups and that arms environment is slowly involving SA-7 missiles, and your ally, the United States, isn’t necessarily stemming the flow of arms and in some political quarters is dead set on aiding the rebels.
Is this a game changing challenge to the US-Israeli relationship over Iran? Probably not. Currently, the conflict seems to be stuck in a mode where Iran and Hezbollah violate rules of waging a successful counterinsurgency (namely, "Shore up the Neighbors," "Make Sure Your Constituents Approve of Your Intervention," and "Economy has to be in great to excellent shape") and are paying for it in blood and treasure. No need for a full on “eager pest" yet, just sit back and develop intelligence networks, create a who’s who of the rebellion, and watch historic irony plague Iran and Hezbollah.
The game changer might be the lack of the United States’ or even Turkey’s ability to broker a compromise between the government of Syria and the rebels or even convince Assad to step down. The one with the greatest ability to convince Assad to step down is the one with access to the throne room: Iran, and I don’t see that happening in the near future. Yet, a conversation with Iran is what is needed to mitigate the blooming damage from the Syrian war: increasing political and sectarian tension in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s decreasing ability to produce, maintain, and hold to social cohesion of the Lebanese Shia, and a growing refugee crises (atop of the Iraqi refugee crises).
To be certain, the United States and Israel have the upper hand, and can sit back and enjoy history’s greatest developer-of-insurgency and insurgent lose their fight in Syria. Remember having the strategic upper hand is no excuse for poor politics and an indecisive policy whether its Syria or the nuclear program.