Israel Reveals Plan to Attack Iran's Allies, but Iran is Ready to Fight Back

Israel is prepared to preemptively strike one of Iran's most powerful partners in the Middle East as part of its new strategy to pressure its longtime adversary, and the Islamic Republic is warning of severe consequences in retaliation if it is targeted, Newsweek has learned.

The plans come as part of the Israeli military's five-year restructuring strategy called "Momentum" that aims to better counter adversaries across the region, particularly Iran, an Israeli military official told Newsweek. One of the primary goals, the official said under the condition of anonymity, is to disrupt the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement's efforts to develop precision-guided munitions that would give the group a strategic edge in combat.

"If you want to know where the highest probability of the next round of violence or escalation in the Middle East will be—a serious one—then my money is on us trying to preempt Hezbollah's precision-guided munitions manufacturing capabilities," the Israeli official told Newsweek.

"I think that the next time you will hear about combat events in Israel will be with regards to Hezbollah's precision-guided munitions project," the official added, referring to the Lebanese group armed with some 130,000 rockets as "the crown jewel" of the Quds Force, the expeditionary branch of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and the primary focus of Israel's new counter-Iran vision.

If Israel crosses the line, however, an Iranian official also speaking under the condition of anonymity vowed the country would again answer with force.

"The United States took action against Iran, we responded," the Iranian official told Newsweek. "If the Israeli regime takes actions against Iran, we have to respond strongly and we will."

In response to the U.S.' assassination of charismatic Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran assaulted Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops with a barrage of missiles, injuring more than 100 soldiers. In addition to the Quds Force maintaining a network of allies that extends to Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and beyond, Iran also commands the largest and most advanced missile arsenal in the Middle East and the latest strike demonstrated unprecedented capabilities.

Neither the Israeli nor the Iranian official provided specifics about what their future operations might look like, but indicated that—ultimately—such moves would likely be defensive in nature. Israel's new plan signals that although it has sparred with Iran for decades without sparking a major confrontation, worsening tensions across the region could reshape the calculus or create a critical miscalculation.

israel, iran, lebanon, border, qassem, soleimani
A giant cutout depicting Iran's late Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport in early January 2020, with a Palestinian flag flying behind him bearing the Arabic words "we will pray in Jerusalem," on display at the Garden of Iran Park, built by the Iranian government, in the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras near the border with Israel, February 16. MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel's relationship with Iran has been largely defined by hostility since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that deposed a West-backed monarchy and brought Shiite clerics to power. Israel had already faced Arab states in a series of wars since its 1948 founding and the mass displacement of Palestinians that followed, but Iran has since become the country's primary nemesis, especially after the Quds Force—named after the disputed holy city of Jerusalem—gained leverage in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Hezbollah was formed during Lebanon's 15-year sectarian civil war and quickly established itself as a formidable force fighting an Israeli invasion initially intended to rout Palestinian commandos. Israel and Hezbollah would go on over the years to fight two major wars and numerous cross-border clashes, most recently last August.

That latest exchange followed a roughly 48-hour period in which Israel appeared to attack Iran-supported groups on four fronts.

In a matter of two days, Israel became the prime suspect behind an attempted drone attack near Hezbollah offices and airstrikes against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command sites in Lebanon, a raid that killed two Hezbollah operatives in Syria, the assassination of a Popular Mobilization Forces figure on the border city of Al-Qaim in Iraq and the targeting of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.

Israel only officially acknowledged its signature on the strikes in Syria, where a Quds Force "killer drone" plot was allegedly being hatched, and in the Gaza Strip, from which rockets had recently been fired. Speaking to Newsweek, the Israeli official would only state that Israeli forces "are collecting intelligence, monitoring Iranian and Iranian loyalists troops, Iranian-affiliated troops in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere."

Although the Israeli official regarded the U.S.' slaying of the "very dominant, charismatic and influential" Soleimani as "a stabilizing act" that could potentially weaken Iran's Axis of Resistance, signs indicate that the Quds Force would continue or even expand support to its partners abroad. The Israeli official pointed as an example to the unit's promotion of Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi to second-in-command, succeeding Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, who replaced Soleimani.

Hejazi is alleged by the Israeli military to be Tehran's point person to Hezbollah and its precision-guided munitions project. His accession "indicates how much the Quds Force wants to continue focusing on Hezbollah," the Israeli official told Newsweek, also highlighting ongoing Quds Force efforts to transfer weapons from Iran through Iraq to Syria and to establish "forward operating bases against Israel."

israel, soldiers, golan, heights, syria, war
An Israeli soldier looks through the scope of his sniper rifle in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights on the border with Syria, February 27, after a reported Israeli drone struck a vehicle in the Syrian southern village of Hader, in Quneitra region. Israel accuses Iran and its allied militias of staging rocket, missile and drone attacks from across the disputed boundary. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli operations in Syria have become a semi-regular occurrence. Reports emerged Thursday of two more suspected attacks against unspecified targets just beyond the occupied Golan Heights.

The Israeli military official told Newsweek that Israel has so far conducted more than 250 strikes against Iranian military targets in Syria and has thwarted six Iranian attacks—four utilizing rockets and one each involving a ballistic missile and an explosive-laden drone—from the neighboring nation tattered by nine years of civil war.

"Iran has significant military capabilities, what Iran is trying to do is to bring these capabilities close to Israel," the Israeli official told Newsweek, acknowledging that Iran has proven capable of overcoming the distance but also that Israel has established both defense and deterrence against such strikes as those that hit U.S. soldiers in response to Soleimani's assassination last month.

"We definitely took notice of the attack on the Iraqi base with American troops," the Israeli official said. "But again, the Iranians have tried to attack Israel before and, each time they tried to attack, by the way, there was substantial material damage and there were quite a lot of Iranians who were shipped back to Iran in coffins, and that was the point."

Still, the official said Israel's revamped strategy envisions a multi-theater war simultaneously taking on opponents from Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and "even the high probability of missiles being fired from further away in Iran, almost 1000 kilometers."

No party to such a potential upcoming conflict has expressed interest in initiating one and all have strategic motives to not do so. The U.S., Israel, Iran and its allies have all expressed a willingness to avoid such a war, even if they felt this was becoming an increasingly difficult task.

"We are in a defensive mode, we understand that conflict with the United States and others is not in our interest, everyone loses, including the U.S., Iran and the region," the Iranian official said.

This Iranian official recently told Newsweek that "in the last 30 years the region has witnessed three wars, the Iran-Iraq War, the first U.S. war with Iraq in 1991 and the second U.S. war on Iraq in 2003, there is also the U.S. war in Afghanistan that has gone on for the past 18,19 years." Now, the official said, "The region is fed up with conflict, and we know the effects of a conflict, but at the same time, we have to prepare."

iran, missile, range, map, weapons
A graphic provided by Statista shows the range of some of Iran's various missiles, as estimated by the Soufan Center. The Islamic Republic has the largest and most advanced missile arsenal of the Middle East. Statista

While the Israeli official described Soleimani as the mastermind behind a "very negative and destabilizing effort" across the Middle East, the Iranian official regarded the slain commander as "an instrumental element in the fight against terrorism and ISIS," also known as the Islamic State militant group.

The Quds Force and its Axis of Resistance played an early, crucial role in the battle against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Though the self-styled caliphists rarely targeted Israel, ISIS jihadis swept through tens of thousands of square miles of land and once enforced their ultraconservative rule over millions before being decimated by an array of local and international powers that included coalitions backed by the U.S. and Iran, along with Russia.

With ISIS mostly defeated and Soleimani's assassination still reverberating around the Middle East, Tehran seeks to rally its allies across the region to prepare for a potential conflict that may very well be sparked in the familiar battleground of Lebanon.

Contacted about the rising tensions, a Hezbollah representative referred Newsweek to Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's latest remarks on the matter. The Lebanese leader declared during a televised address last week that Soleimani's death, along with other recent U.S. and Israeli moves viewed as destabilizing, "brought us to a new stage" in the Axis of Resistance's own purpose.

"Today, we face a new and inevitable confrontation," Nasrallah proclaimed.