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Iran Ups the Ante as US Troops Pull Out of Syria

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Israel soldiers in position on the Golan Heights (Photo: JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel soldiers in position on the Golan Heights (Photo: JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian aggression against Israel is becoming more open and mounting daily, causing experts concern both over where it might end and how the pullout of US troops in Syria will affect the region.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in broad daylight, Iranian forces in Syria launched a missile with a half-ton warhead at a popular Israeli ski resort on Mount Hermon.

Due to a recent snow, the resort was filled with thousands of skiers that day. Israel’s air defense system “Iron Dome” successfully intercepted it.

That night, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a severe retaliatory strike as well as some tongue-in-cheek advice to Iran:

Although news reports billed the Iranian strike as a retaliatory one against the previous night’s Israeli strikes against targets in the Damascus International Airport and in the town of al-Kiswah (where Iranian ammunition dumps and intelligence installations are located), Israeli military experts noted that the missile attack was planned in advance by Tehran.

“The ayatollahs in Tehran made a decision several months ago to give full backing to the Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, despite domestic criticism of continued Iranian consolidation in Syria, and despite Israeli determination and the price Iran will have to pay,” wrote military analyst Amir Bohbot, as reported by The Algemeiner.

“The purpose of the launch [by Iran] was to create a balance of terror between Iran and Israel and to exert pressure on the Israeli government not to attack Iranian targets in Syria,” he added. “Israel’s response was crushing.”

The response included a hit on 12 targets in Syria, including Iranian arms caches, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian training camp near Damascus. The strikes also destroyed 12 Syrian anti-missile batteries.

Experts warn that the current situation is not simply a “tit-for-tat” show anymore.

“The Iranians are determined to complete their settlement in Syria, and as of now they are not in a place where they would like to be,” Bohbot said. “They do not have an airport or the scope of ammunition they would like at this time, nor the range of missiles, defense systems, intelligence bases, and the range of armed militias they would like to have throughout Syria and certainly near the Israeli border. But they are definitely working 24/7 to meet this goal.”

With Israel determined to prevent Iran was establishing a foothold in Syria on its border, the question remains, where will all this end and at what point might the world’s superpowers—Russia and the U.S. –feel compelled to get involved?

Russia surprisingly has taken a back seat in this conflict, allowing Israel to strike Iranian targets with impunity. (Israel reports that before its airstrikes, they inform Russia.)

However, it is a fact that, whether intentional or not, it is easy for conflicts like this to spiral out of control. Israel says it is not looking for a full-out war with Iran; rather its strikes are meant to send a warning to Tehran that it will not tolerate its Syrian entrenchment and the threat it poses to the Jewish state.

As Amos Yadlin, a former general in the Israeli Air Force and former military attache to Washington notes, “At the moment, all parties are not interested in a comprehensive war. At the same time, wars break out even when neither side wants them.”

Yadlin also noted that the Russians have the power to prevent such an escalation in the conflict, but so far have not. Although they have sent messages to Israel not to attack the airport in Damascus, they have stood by while Israel has done so.

As Yadlin commented, Israel has conducted the strikes late at night “with the intention of not harming civilian and Russian aviation.”

America has already pledged to come to Israel’s aid in the event of a war with Iran or even Hezbollah, Iran’s terror-proxy in Lebanon. Yet, for the moment, the U.S. pullout from Syria leaves Israel alone to fight the battle against Iran.

While the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria – an extremely small force – were not a great deterrence for Iran and their program of stockpiling  weapons on the Israeli border, the presence of the U.S. in the region served as a psychological and diplomatic deterrent.

Now, as the last days have shown, Iran is even more emboldened in the region – and it remains to be seen if Russia’s response to Israel’s airstrikes against its ally Iran in Syria will change once the last American soldier is gone.

For now, the most beneficial strategy for Iran (and the rest of the world) would be to heed the advice of the IDF and get out of Syria.

 

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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