Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: Israel, Iran test the limits of conflict

Filed on November 20, 2019 | Last updated on November 20, 2019 at 08.30 pm

Russia is another player that has given covering fire to Iranian troops and Hezbollah.

Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria are raising fears of a wider conflict in an already volatile region even as the embers of the Syrian war continue to burn. Iran's attempts to spread trouble in the Middle East and its use of proxies remain a concern for its neighbours. But in the case of Syria it was different as Iran's dreaded Revolutionary Guards were fighting alongside President Bashar Al Assad's forces in the campaign against terrorists and militia who were opposed to the regime. Iran's writ runs in Syria and Assad depends on Tehran to keep the lid on elements who may foment trouble in the country. Russia is another player that has given covering fire to Iranian troops and Hezbollah, a Tehran proxy from neighbouring Lebanon that played a large role in regaining large tracts of the country from the Daesh terror group.

Wednesday's Israeli air attack on Damascus takes the conflict to the heart of Assad's stronghold. Reports said 11 civilians and soldiers had been killed and Syria fired rockets into Israel that were intercepted. The Israel Defence Forces tweeted that the strikes targeted Iran's Quds Force and Syria's armed force after the Iranians started the skirmish by firing rockets the previous night. The claims and counter-claims have not been verified but this is a state of war.

Russia has condemned the Israeli strikes but has not retaliated which has been the practice. The latest Israeli air strikes follow the attacks last week on Gaza and Damascus against Palestinian officials. The targeted attack on Gaza killed Islamic Jihad senior commander Baha Abu Al Ata, who is backed by Iran. Politically, these attacks benefit Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu who is locked in a stalemate with his rival Benny Gantz. The PM's rival will make a decision on joining a unity government led by Netanyahu this week. Militarily, Iran is clearly not in a position to continue this conflict directly as its economy is being squeezed by US-led sanctions. Protests are breaking out in the country for basic necessities. In this scenario, a limited conflict with Israel could help the regime in Tehran score some brownie points with a public that has had enough of war-mongering. An excuse is all that the two foes need to score political wins when the chips are down.

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