Another conflict seems to be brewing in the Middle East, this time between Israel and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently accused Iran of sending drones to attack Israel. Netanyahu’s statement comes after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced Israel for violating international law.
These statements come in the light of heightened tensions between the two countries. On April 9, Israel allegedly conducted airstrikes on Syria’s T-4 airbase, killing 14 people, including Iranian nationals. While Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the attacks, Netanyahu along with his ministers, has stepped up the rhetoric against Iran, claiming they will not let Iran establish a military foothold in Syria.
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad consolidates his rule in Syria with the help of Iranian forces, the conflict between Israel and Iran, which always seemed to be clandestine, is coming out in the open. There are several reasons for the change from shadow war to open conflict.
A sympathetic USA
The foremost reason is the change in the USA’s attitude towards Iran and the nuclear deal. Under the Trump administration, the US has become more hawkish about Iran. In fact, President Trump has regularly voiced his mistrust of Iran and his displeasure with the deal on public channels. The relations between Iran and US, which had improved post the nuclear deal, have worsened again.
Also, Trump’s clear and obvious preference for increasing ties with Israel at the cost of the Palestinian Authority has emboldened Israel’s stand against Iran. While Israel and USA have always been allies, relations had cooled after the Obama administration’s agreement with Iran on its nuclear facilities.
Iran’s increasing influence in Syria
Another factor is Iran’s increasing influence in Syria. As Bashar al-Assad regains more of his territory from the Syrian rebels, Iran, with whose help he has remained in power, also becomes more influential in the region. This has rattled Israel. Another country that feels the same is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, which had supported the rebels in Syria, is involved in its own power struggle with Iran for supremacy in the Middle East.
Sensing a new government in the USA that is hostile to Iran and partial to their own interests, Israel and Saudi Arabia have banded together. The cutting off of diplomatic ties with Qatar, Prince Salman’s recent statements on the Jewish people having a right to their own land- all of this is plain evidence of closer ties between the countries to counter Iran.
The present increase in the conflict
Israel has conducted airstrikes previously in Syria, targeting convoys of Syrian troops and the Hezbollah. It sees the growing clout of Iran as a threat to its borders. The Israeli air force confirmed last year that it had conducted almost 100 airstrikes on these targets since the Syrian conflict began.
But the incident on 9 April was unprecedented because airstrikes were launched on a Syrian airbase. This is also the first time that Iran itself, along with Russia, acknowledged the attack on its nationals and blamed Israel for it. Meanwhile, an Israeli officer confirmed to the New York Times that the airstrikes were conducted by Israel.
It also marks an increase in war-mongering rhetoric from both sides. Meanwhile, Russia has announced it is supplying advanced missile systems to Syria. It has warned that Israel could suffer “catastrophically” if it decided to attack the missile systems.
The idea of Russia getting involved in a conflict with Israel, or even an open confrontation between Iran and Israel, is frightening to say the least. The entire world can be dragged into this conflict, particularly given the USA and Russia’s support to opposing sides. While both Iran and Israel deny that the increased tension will spill over into a direct war, it is unclear till when this statement will ring true.
Priyale Chandra: I am a a freelance journalist and a student of Convergent Journalism at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. My areas of interest include literature, international relations and history. My work has previously been published in The Quint, Youth ki Awaaz, and The Indian Economist.