Firstly, the matter can be analyzed through the prism of the struggle between Iran and Israel to bring about a new regional paradigm in Southwest Asia. In geopolitics, the concept of region, according to Cantori and Spiegel, is defined as a number of countries that are geographically close to one another and that interact on the foreign policy level. The two thinkers believe that a geopolitical region displays the three qualities of exceptionality, the existence of mutual action and reaction, and the accumulation of resources. Thus, every geopolitical region should have a regional system (a framework to define competitions, cooperation, and contradictions). This system can be known and analyzed by such elements as its particular location, various political, ideological, and security developments, and historical, ethnic, and lingual bonds. Every political unit in the system attempts to turn it into a friendly environment that would serve its interests in the short-, mid-, and long-term by concentrating its resources. The structure of the regional system is two-fold: external and internal. The former has to do with the region’s relationship with a more dominant system, and the latter — which is of more relevance in the study of Iran and Israel — relates to the intra-regional structure. The structure of intra-regional relationships is a model that defines the relationship between the central and peripheral pieces.
Having that in mind, the nature of the rivalry between Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially in the Syrian civil war, and besides the clear ideological differences and the Palestinian issue, goes back to their central and peripheral statuses, where the central player will attempt to preserve its central status and the peripheral player, by mobilizing all resources, will try to enhance its position within the equations of the regional system. According to the standard definition, the central player in a regional system is the one that sets the tone and can create a political pattern by drawing on commonalities, basing its regional power on that pattern, and constantly strengthening it. The peripheral player, on the other hand, does not fit in the framework created by the central player because of its differing political, geographical, security, economic, social, and ideological variables, and is always regarded as an incongruous piece.
Therefore, the action and reaction between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Israel throughout the last four decades can be analyzed as — besides their ideological differences — a form of rivalry for the preservation of the status of the central player (the Islamic Republic) and the enhancement of the status of the peripheral player (Israel). Given its special geopolitical situation, its limited natural resources, the predicted demographic conditions, the imbalance in population compared to adjacent countries, and the numerous domestic challenges in various areas, the Israeli regime is considered a peripheral player in the geography of the Southwest Asia’s regional system that has survived for over 60 years merely because of substantial and unequaled support by the United States as well as technological superiority. That has turned the Israeli military into the dominant element at the center of the regime’s efforts to boost its status from peripheral to central. That is why Israel’s military strategy has since its inception (1948) been based on the six principles of creating, preserving, and enhancing qualitative superiority over rivals’ quantitative superiority; the unity of regional Muslim nations against the regime’s existence; constantly upgrading an active, professional, and small armed organization; conducting preemptive strikes; taking the combat to the enemy’s territory; and lastly, keeping wars short and avoiding debilitating wars. In short, Israel’s strategy to win the battle to become the central player in Southwest Asia’s regional system has been based on establishing a technological umbrella in the military field and using it to carry out rapid preemptive strikes to neutralize the efforts of the central player (the Islamic Republic of Iran’s presence in Syria) and moving military operations to the central player’s territory in a short period of time.
Naturally, to minimize the effects of this doctrine on the central player (Iran)’s efforts to preserve and enhance its existing key position, the central player needs to devise and adopt a smart approach based on the principles of effect-based operations. By definition, an effect-based operation is a set of measures meant to change the enemy’s behavior and to direct it in a certain direction. That behavior must change not only in the military arena but also in the other fields of confrontation such as the political, security, economic, and cultural fields. In such an operation, the form and nature of military force is parallel with political and diplomatic measures taken to form the behavior of the players on the field and through direct or indirect action.
Given Syria’s sensitivity due to its being adjacent to Israel, when the civil war in Syria began, Iran’s senior military strategists gradually established a very strong network of their supporters in Syria and the region, to such an extent that, when Damascus invited Iranian military advisers, some kind of a strategic fear gripped Israel. Tel Aviv was so rattled that Ben Caspit, a senior Israeli analyst, wrote in Maariv, “The outcome of Israel’s fight against Qassem Soleimani is contradictory. Tactically speaking, Israel successfully stops Iran from scoring local scores. However, strategically speaking, Iran has formed an axis that stretches from Tehran to Beirut and that has branches extending to the Golan Heights, too. The Iranians aren’t 80 kilometers away from our borders. They likely aren’t even 80 meters away. The Shia axis is closing our borders. This is a distressing, complex, and threatening reality.”
So, one can reason that Israel’s repeated strikes against certain targets in Syria are clear indications of Israel’s sense of fear. Israeli experts are of the view that Iran is accurately executing a grand plan in Syria based on its successful experiences in establishing Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the early 1980s — a nightmare for Israel that although was not taken seriously in the early years came to haunt the regime later in 2006 and has been growing ever since. Given all of this, Iran’s refusal to give a hysterical response to the Israeli strikes can be analyzed in either of the following two ways:
1- The capability to respond is non-existent (for whatever military reason).
2- The plan that has been designed for Syria, and the costs that are envisioned to be paid in terms of finance, human resources, and equipment, require a higher pain threshold on the part of the resistance axis, because, based on a long-running principle, one side’s anger (hysterical and unreasonable reaction) during a quarrel doesn’t help win a stronger rival; its only advantage would be shortening reaction time. Therefore, the resistance axis, with the Islamic Republic of Iran at its top, will try to achieve its goal (the enhancement of its central status in the regional system) with a smart strategy in which the relationship between the measures taken and the outcomes are causal, the focus is on the effectiveness of the strategy adopted, the enemy is defined as a system, and the manner of fighting is decided after a meticulous assessment with attention to explicit temporal considerations.
All in all, deception and faking must be taken into consideration as elements of Iranian power in the Syrian battlefield, because Sun Tzu’s advice is always on our minds: “Appear weak when you are strong.”