U.S. Fears Iran Planning ‘Massive Regional War’ in Middle East

Trump vows support for Israeli defensive operations after identifying Iran as source of tunnels into Israel

Israeli Merkava tanks parked near the border with Lebanon, after the area was declared a closed military zone by the Israeli army

Israeli Merkava tanks parked near the border with Lebanon, after the area was declared a closed military zone by the Israeli army / Getty Images

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The Trump administration disclosed that Iran is behind the construction of several underground tunnels leading into Israel that Hezbollah militants and other terror forces have been using to conduct attacks, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon and communicated fears that Tehran is preparing to lead a "massive regional war."

The public identification of Iran isn't likely to surprise international observers, but signals aggressive moves by the Trump administration to tie Iran to the rise of terrorism not just in Israel, but across the Middle East, where Iranian-backed militants continue to strike U.S. interests and allies.

The Obama administration, in contrast to Trump, was careful to avoid singling out Iran as the chief force for terrorism against Israel and U.S. allies in the region in hopes of appeasing the hardline regime as it sought to ink the landmark nuclear pact that Trump abandoned earlier this year.

Senior U.S. officials familiar with Israel's discovery of these new tunnels—a tactic long used by Hezbollah and Hamas to conduct cross-border raids against Israeli civilians and military personnel—say they mark a massive escalation by Iran's terror proxies.

The Israeli military conducted operations to destroy the tunnels earlier this week, shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a one-on-one meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels.

The timing of Israel's military operations signal a deep coordination with the Trump administration, which told the Free Beacon the United States will stand side-by-side with the Jewish state as it works to thwart Iran's terror enterprise.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the tunnels show Iran used money from sanctions lifted under the Obama administration for military purposes.

"Senator Cruz has been tracking the Israeli campaign against these attack tunnels closely, and every day brings new disturbing revelations," said a spokesperson for Cruz. "It's now clear that Iran used its windfall from the Obama Iran nuclear deal to arm Hezbollah for an all-out war against Israel, and that the United States must do more to undo the damage of that deal. Sen. Cruz has also been unequivocal that our Israeli allies have an absolute right to defend themselves, especially against threats and violations of their sovereignty like these attack tunnels."

The United States remains "very troubled" by the discovery of these tunnels in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon that led into Israel across its northern border.

"This is another example of Iran's revolutionary foreign policy that is expansionist and destabilizing for the Middle East when Iranian backed Hezbollah is digging tunnels into another country beneath their borders," said Brian Hook, the Trump administration's top Iran envoy.

The Trump administration fully supports "Israel in its military operation to address these tunnels," according to Hook.

The terror tunnels are just a single piece of Iran's increasingly provocative military intervention across the Middle East, including in Syria and Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iranian-backed rebels.

In just the past several weeks, Iran has test-fired nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missiles—capable of reaching both Israel and Europe—and also continued to harass U.S. naval assets in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping lane.

Iran has been threatening to block the shipping route, prompting fierce warnings from the Trump administration.

"Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz again," Hook disclosed. "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not control the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. will continue to work with its partners" to ensure the route remains open and free of Iranian attacks.

U.S. officials fear these recent moves by Iran are a preview of its preparations for a "massive regional war."

"The Israelis have clearly been planning this for months, which means that Hezbollah must have been working on these tunnels for years before they were detected and Israel planned its response," said one senior U.S. official who works on Israel issues but was not authorized to speak on the record about the tense situation.

"When you add what Hamas has been doing in the Gaza Strip, and what Iran itself has been doing from Syria, there's no escaping the conclusion that Iran has been waging a low level war against Israel while preparing for a massive regional war," the source warned.

Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the tunnels have likely been in the works for some time, and hint at preparation for larger Hezbollah operations against Israel.

Hezbollah is believed to have at least 120,000 missiles stockpiled and they are becoming "much more precise" with Iran's aid, according to Amidror, who briefed reporters on the situation during a conference call organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, or JINSA.

Fears are mounting in Israel that "big numbers" of Hezbollah militants and Iranian-backed fighters could use this type of tunnel to launch a full-scale incursion into Israel, including possible plots to besiege Israeli border towns, Amidror said.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seeking to thwart Iran's military operations by choking the regime's sources of income. New U.S. sanctions appear to have further constrained Iran's economy, which already had been teetering on the brink of collapse amid popular protests against the hardline regime.

Iran envoy Hook told the Free Beacon that despite protestations from some European governments about the implementation of harsh new U.S. sanctions on Iran last month, European companies have been more than willing to go along with the Trump administration in order to avoid penalties.

"We have seen only full compliance by European corporations" connected to the international financial system, Hook told the Free Beacon. "We just don't see any daylight between the United States and European companies."

Asked about European allies, particularly Germany and France, who are plotting methods to skirt the U.S. sanctions, Hook said the United States is uniquely placed to enforce the new sanctions. The Europeans have been told they must choose between business with the United States or Iran.

"The governments who are still in the [nuclear deal], yes, we have a disagreement over the efficacy of the Iran nuclear deal and we think it's a deficient deal that needs to be replaced by a new and better deal," Hook said. He added that the Trump administration will "do everything we can to starve the militias Iran funds and" choke off money being sent by Iran to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas, Hezbollah, and a slew of other militant groups.

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer reporting on national security and foreign policy matters for the Washington Free Beacon. An award-winning political reporter who has broken news from across the globe, Kredo’s work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary Magazine, the Drudge Report, and the Jerusalem Post, among many others. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

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