Dr. Yossi Mansharof interview with Chinese Xinhua News Agency.
Israel’s military said it has struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday, which is considered one of the widest operations undertaken by the army so far.
The Israeli attack came in response to missiles fired into Israel the day before. There was no damage or casualties as air defense systems intercepted the rockets.
The rockets fired into Israel’s north were by “an Iranian force,” a statement released by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said, adding the retaliation “struck dozens of military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian Armed Forces.”
Syrian media reported over 10 people dead in the airstrikes and additional damage.
Iran is Israel’s “arch enemy” with its leaders repeatedly calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
“I have made it clear that whoever hurts us, we will hurt them,” read a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tensions on Israel’s northern border with Syria have been running high in the last year with several incidents between forces of the two countries.
The timing of the current clash comes a week after a major escalation between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern border.
The PIJ is allegedly backed by Iran and has made several attempts at dragging Israel into a wider conflict in Gaza by firing rockets towards communities in the south of the country.
Last week, the Israeli military killed a senior PIJ leader in Gaza and also made a failed attempt to take the life of another PIJ leader in Syria. This resulted in massive rockets fired by PIJ towards Israel for several days last week.
While there is always a chance for an all-out war between the two sides, the experience of the last year shows both Iran and Israel have mastered the art of brinkmanship. The question is until when.
“Iran is continuing to test Israel’s boundaries,” said Menahem Merhavy, an expert on Iran at the Harry Truman Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“We might still witness an Iranian response to last night’s attack,” said Yossi Mansharof, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
Mansharof said Iranian-backed militant groups in Yemen could also launch attacks on Israel, further complicating matters.
Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he will not allow Iran to establish a frontline against Israel in Syria. According to Merhavy, domestic politics in Iran plays a major role in Iran’s actions but also in the Israeli choice to launch a large-scale retaliatory attack.
“Israel believes Iran cannot afford a major escalation at this point,” Merhavy said. “This gives Israel greater maneuvering space for such actions.”
The problem is that while both sides seem to be measured in their attacks and responses, the situation can easily escalate.
Israel is believed to have attacked Iranian targets in Syria many times in the past two years. While the country was vague about its responsibility, in recent incidents it was quick to acknowledge its military action.
“The war between Israel and Iran is open now; the gloves are off and there is no point in hiding it,” said Merhavy.
But as Israel has intensified its efforts against Iranian presence in Syria, the Iranians are still determined as ever to remain and fortify their presence.
“In Syria, Israel has demonstrated great operational and intelligence efficiency,” Mansharof said. “In order to quell the Iranian effort, Israel needs to work intensively.”
In addition to large amounts of Iranian troops in Syria, there is also a substantial Russian presence aimed at maintaining the stability of the Assad government.
Russia has so far no comment on the Israeli military action in Syria, even after a botched incident in which a Russian plane was downed by a Syrian air defense system whose missiles were targeting Israel aircraft that had carried out an airstrike on Syrian territory.
“Russian presence in the region restrains Israel; without it, Israel’s response could be more aggressive,” Merhavy said.
Keren Setton, Xinhua, 20.11.19