JERUSALEM—A senior Iranian official said this week that Iran’s strategic front line now lies in southern Lebanon, just north of Israel’s border.
Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military adviser to the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran’s influence has been extended to the Mediterranean coast because of its successful intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
"Our frontmost line of defense is no longer Shalamcheh (on the border with Iraq) but in southern Lebanon," he said. "Our strategic depth is now stretched as far as the Mediterranean coast, just to the north of Israel." On the ground, Iran and Israel are about 1,000 miles apart.
Although Iranian units have had only a limited role on the ground in the Syrian civil war, Tehran has been a major supplier of arms and moral support to the Syrian regime. It already has a proxy on the ground in Lebanon in the form of the Hezbollah militia, which is more powerful than the Lebanese army or any other force in the country.
Safavi was speaking to a group of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps veterans, according to the country’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
The Iranian official was apparently not suggesting that Iran has a military force near Israel’s border. However, his remarks could imply that Iranian military advisers would take a more active role with Hezbollah.
The Lebanese militia was initially reluctant to intervene in the Syrian civil war but last year, reportedly under pressure from Tehran, began to do so. It has played a decisive role in the successes of Assad’s forces since then but has suffered heavy casualties.
"The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the European countries’ strategy to overthrow Bashar Assad has failed," Safavi said. "This failure is a strategic failure for the Western, Arab, and Zionist front and a great victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Israeli intelligence has long been alert to Iranian influence in Lebanon and Syria and monitors it closely.