Two days after the US announced it is to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to control Iranian nuclear weapons development, their close ally, Israel, has launched a large scale attack on Iranian military assets inside Syria. Israel says that it was in response to rocket attacks against its own positions on the Golan Heights.
The “Golan Heights” is an area of land to the east of the river Jordan which was seized by Israel at the end of the Six Day War in 1967. The major portion of the Heights was occupied by Israel as a security measure to prevent the high ground from being used to bombard Israeli positions and settlements. It was then unilaterally annexed by Israel in 1981 and retained by them in contravention of international resolutions. Apart from the acquisition of valuable farming land, the Israelis also secured the Sea of Galilee, their main source of drinking water.
According to Israeli sources, none of the Iranian rockets hit their targets, falling short or having been intercepted. (For its part, Iran said the rockets were fired in response to earlier Israeli attacks on Baath, a Syrian village which some say killed Iranian forces there.) Nevertheless, the attack was viewed as a significant escalation of Iranian activity which has brought out into the open a simmering conflict between Israel and Iran. The two countries are seen as the two most implacable foes in the region and, therefore, the most likely to spark off another major conflict.
The Israeli response to the rocket attack consisted of a series of air-launched strikes against Iranian positons inside Syria including intelligence assets, logistics dumps (including munition storage warehouses of the Quds Force Revolutionary Guards at Damascus International Airport), as well as other troop locations and logistics stores in the buffer zone between the Syrian Golan Heights and the Israeli-occupied zone. It is claimed that the strikes have effectively destroyed Iran’s military capability in Syria for the time being.
The Israeli government has made it clear that any subsequent Iranian response will be treated very harshly. “If there is rain on our side, there will be a flood on their side,” said Mr. Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, adding: “ I hope we have finished with this round and that everybody understood.”
In an example of how complex the situation is in Syria, Israel has good relations with Russia and said that it had warned them of the strikes. However, Russia is a strong supporter of Mr Assad in Syria, and has increasingly close ties with Iran – Mr Assad’s other main ally.
Israel has now indicated that it wants to put an end to this round of retaliation. However, Iran has many other interests in the region, including actively supporting Hezbollah in the Lebanon. It is highly unlikely that the two countries will now implement any form of informal truce. Instead, they increasingly resemble two fighters shaping up for a much tougher fight.