Direct Strikes Raise Risk of an Israeli-Iranian War

Vladimir Putin may play a central role in what happens next
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2018 12:30 PM CDT
'Shadow War' Between Israel, Iran Gets Very Real
Israeli soldiers walk past tanks in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Israel says it struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria overnight in response to a rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. It was the biggest Israeli strike...   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

First, Iranian forces in Syria fired 20 rockets at Israel. Then Israel retaliated with a much larger show of force, with fighter jets striking dozens of Iranian targets in Syria. Iran and Israel have been fighting what the New York Times calls a "shadow war" in Syria, but the direct strikes on each other suggest that the conflict is in the shadows no more. Whether it grows into a larger conflict is now the big concern, and France, Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom each separately called for restraint from both sides, reports i24 News. Details, developments, and background:

  • The danger: "These are the first skirmishes in a potential war between Israel and Iran that promises a fearful level of destruction—even by the standards of the modern Middle East," writes Jonathan Marcus at the BBC. Unless it's averted, the conflict would pit Israeli airpower against the missiles of Iran and its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  • The roots: Israel accuses Iran of taking advantage of the chaos in Syria to try to create what Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman calls a "forward base against Israel" along Israel's northern border, per the AP. In a speech to soldiers ahead of the latest strikes, he said, “We are facing a new reality—the Lebanese army, in cooperation with Hezbollah, the Syrian army, the [Shia] militias in Syria and above them Iran—are all becoming a single front against the state of Israel.”

  • US context: The hostilities come in the immediate aftermath of President Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. European nations viewed the accord "as a crucial element holding Iran and Israel, implacable foes, from all-out conflict," writes Isabel Kershner in the New York Times.
  • Role for Putin: Russia's Vladimir Putin is "increasingly central to what happens next," writes Seth Frantzman at the Jerusalem Post. He has good relations with Israel (Putin met with Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday) as well as with Iran. And Moscow has increasingly ramped up its role in the Syrian conflict with its support of Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad.
  • US response: A statement from White House press chief Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemned Iran’s “provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens” and backed Israel’s “right to act in self-defense.”
  • Getting aggressive: In recent weeks, Israel has more directly gone after Iranian military sites in Syria, reports the AP. At the Guardian, Peter Beaumont goes further and suggests that Israel has been "pursuing a deliberate policy of provoking Iran." As for Tehran, he thinks its strategy on Israel's northern border smacks of "dangerous and hubristic overreach."
  • Divide in Iran? The Iranian strike on Israel could be a sign of a rift in Iran, writes Patti Domm at CNBC. President Hassan Rouhani, for example, has said that he wants Iran to remain in the nuclear accord despite the US withdrawal; but "the attack on Israel was carried by the IRGC, or revolutionary guards, who take orders from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."
(Read more Israel stories.)

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