Israel and Iran: Old War on New Grounds

On May 10th 2018, the world was on tenterhooks as it saw firing between Israeli and Iranian military forces in the Syrian Golan region. Many news channels termed the escalation of hostilities as the start of a war in the region.(Have you noticed how recently almost any confrontational act is being termed as a potential catalyst to an impending war?). Now that it has been 10 days since the attack and the dust has settled down, it is possible to go back and see why this attack happened in the first place.

Last week while talking about the US-Iran Nuclear Deal, I touched upon, albeit briefly, the opposing interests between Israel and Iran. This week we will go into the increasing hostility between the two states and what is its connection with Syria.

What Actually Happened?

Iranian military forces in Syria fired 20 rockets at the Israeli military positions that occupied the Golan heights. As a retaliation, the Israeli military force carried out a total of 70 strikes (60 air-to-surface and 10 surface-to-surface strike). These strikes targeted all of the Iranian military infrastructure in Syria, killing 23 people in its wake. Some of the Iranian sites in Syria which were targeted included the military headquarters, logistics headquarters, observation and military posts in the Golan demilitarized zone.

Although the Israeli military believes that they have given a befitting reply to the Iranian attack, sources state that more than half of the missiles launched were shot down.

Map showing Israel, Syria and the Golan Heights

What is the Significance of Golan Heights?

Golan Heights or just Golan is a plateau region originally belonging to Syria. Israel captured it during the Six-Day War. The area is strategically important, as it not only gives a military advantage but also contains water sources. Since no agreement has been entered to resolve the conflict, a buffer-zone has been created and the UN Disengagement Observer Force has been placed here. They are the only ones allowed to cross the de-facto border or the Alpha Line demarcating Israel and Syria.

Why are there growing tensions between Israel and Iran?

There has always been unrest in the region, with Iran, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and even Egypt engaging in continuous wars. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War over the control of Palestine, the Second Arab-Israeli War (including participation by countries such as U.K. and France) invading Egypt or even the Six-Day War or the Third Arab Israeli War were all instances of strife in the region over the past 7 decades.

Since then, there has been a political and military struggle between the states. This is more pronounced in the case of Israel and Iran. Only recently, we saw that Israel was against the US-Iran Nuclear Deal. And thus, Israel kept providing material evidence (whether proved or otherwise) to the US to make their case.

Things took a turn for the worse when Iran decided to support the Bashar al-Assad Government in Syria. Iran first started giving military support to Syria during the rebel war. Later on, it provided help to fight the Islamic State. But it seems like Iran made use of the chaos present in Syria to establish a military base.

The New York Times very succinctly puts the scenario across as follows:

Even though the Syrian rebels have steadily lost ground and no clear threats to Mr. Assad’s rule remain, Iran and its allies have stayed in Syria, shifting their focus to creating a military infrastructure there that Israel sees as a threat. Iran continues to train and equip fighters while strengthening ties with its Shiite allies in Iraq and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in hopes of building a united front in the event of a new war.

“The fundamental reason why Syria has become a battleground is because of the Islamic Republic’s declared ideology and strategy since 1979 of fighting Israel and its supporters,” said Amir Toumaj, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which takes a hawkish stance on Iran.

Bloomberg reports that:

Now, the Iranians in Syria have graduated from helping Assad to “building their strategic presence against Israel,’’ said Paul Salem, senior vice president at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “It appears that neither the Russians nor the Assad regime are in control or can limit these things,’’ he said. “The situation is highly unstable and highly unmanaged.’’

A map showing the Israel Iran standoff due to the Syrian War

Thus, the fact that Iran and its allies have brought in military forces and weapons into Syria threatens the status quo of dominance that Israel wants to put up. This would explain the excessive force used by Israel against the Iranian attack.

In fact, many consider that the involvement of Iran in the Syrian war could lead to an all out war. Israel has fought against Syria in all the three Arab-Israeli wars. The presence of Iran in Syria only makes the continuous state of war more tenuous.

While neither country has furthered this statesince the attacks on 10th May, it just shows how the Syrian War is dragging in other states with it. This has only created a vulnerable environment which could tip any moment, as the media channels say, into an all out war.

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