Iranian-led efforts to upgrade Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in Lebanon represents the most dangerous regional flashpoint that could trigger an Israeli counter-strike, according to UK defence think-tank RUSI.
The smuggling of precision-guided missile systems into Lebanon represents the most “serious risk” of starting a major war with Iran that could involve the United States, according to new research by the group published on Thursday.
The report comes as the Iranian leadership said its relations with the United States had rarely been so bad and the US warned against of Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Lebanese cabinet.
Despite its relatively weak financial and military standing, Iran’s continued belligerence towards Israel threatens potential war through “miscalculation or a deliberate choice”, said the research paper.
“Iran’s bid to add guidance systems onto Hezbollah’s missile arsenal poses a serious threat to Israeli airfields and critical national infrastructure,” according to the report “Iran’s objectives and capabilities: Deterrence and Subversion”.
“If this threat continues to expand, Israel may feel that it has no choice but to strike. Such a conflict is far from inevitable but policymakers need to work to reduce the risks of escalation.”
The paper highlighted other potential flashpoints that could include clashes between rival Iran and US-backed forces in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Yemen.
The report said Iran’s military strategy has been based on deterring attacks against the clerical regime by building increasingly accurate rocket and ballistic missile technology based in Iran and Lebanon.
In the event of war, they would be used to attack US bases in the Gulf and critical national infrastructure in Israel. In addition, forces backed by Tehran in Iraq and its navy would be used to harry and delay the build-up of US forces.
“The strategic objective of Iranian security policy is to make the cost of a war with Iran so high that diplomacy will always appear preferable,” concluded the report by RUSI research fellow Dr Jack Watling.
Washington and Tehran have been entrenched foes since the 1979 revolution but tensions have increased since President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal last year that was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In a sign of the growing animosity, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the sanctions re-imposed by the US and targeting its oil and banking sectors amounted to a “terrorist act”.
“The struggle between Iran and America is currently at a maximum,” he was quoted as saying in a cabinet meeting by state broadcaster IRIB. “America has employed all its power against us.
“The US pressures on firms and banks to halt business with Iran is one hundred per cent a terrorist act.”