Is Iran Forcing Israel Into War?
In a dramatic escalation of tensions along Israel’s northern border, an Iranian attack-drone recently violated Israeli airspace. Israel shot down the drone and then sent warplanes into Syria to take out the command center that launched the drone. Syria shot down one of those planes, an F-16. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on 12 Syrian and Iranian military targets within Syria. The clash marks the first time Iran and Israel have engaged in direct military confrontation.
The Israeli military called the Iranian infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and said Iran will be held accountable. “Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” the Israeli military said. “We are prepared for a variety of incidents. . . . Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff Brigadier General Tomer Bar described the Israeli counterattack in Syria as “the biggest and most significant attack the Air Force has conducted against Syrian air defenses” since the 1982 Lebanon War. It remains unclear, however, whether Israel has succeeded in boosting its deterrence.
The escalation, which the Iranian proxy Hezbollah said heralded “a new strategic era,” offers a glimpse of what lies ahead as Iran works to establish a permanent military presence in Syria that Israel vows it will never accept.
Iran is estimated to have deployed more than 70,000 Iranian and non-Iranian forces in Syria. It also pays monthly salaries to more than 250,000 militiamen and agents. Iranian-backed militias have taken up positions in Syria less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Israeli Golan Heights.
In addition, Iran is attempting to establish missile production facilities in Lebanon through Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group believed to be building underground facilities in Lebanon for manufacturing missiles and other weapons. Hezbollah already has an arsenal of at least 100,000 short, medium, and long range missiles and rockets, including many that can hit central Israel.
Brigadier General Ronen Manelis said Iran’s extensive support for Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into a “branch” of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “Lebanon is becoming, by default and by the failure of the Lebanese authorities, one big missile factory. . . . In every place where instability prevails we discovered Iran’s fingerprint, and in every place, we discover Hezbollah’s involvement. . . . Billions [of dollars] flow from Iran through Beirut to everywhere in the Middle East where there is evil and terror.”
Israel recently conducted a large-scale exercise in preparation for a potential war with Hezbollah. The 11-day drill, the largest in 20 years, involved tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the Israeli military. They focused on countering Hezbollah’s increased capabilities and carried out simulations of evacuating civilians close to the border with Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly sought to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has established a significant foothold in Syria and views Tehran as a strategic partner, to prevent Iranian expansionism. According to Middle East analyst Ben Caspit, “The message that Israel has been trying to get through to the Russians for quite a while now . . . [is] that Iran has gone from being an asset operating on behalf of Russian interests into a burden. Israel effectively made quite clear that it would not hesitate to ruin Putin’s party in Syria if Israel’s own interests are harmed.”
In a speech at the annual Munich Security Conference, Netanyahu brandished a piece of the Iranian drone that Israel downed and warned Iran “not to test” Israel’s resolve. “We will act, if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself,” he said.