“The rumblings of an open conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria are growing louder,” says Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post. Israel is thought to have attacked an Iranian drone base in Syria earlier this month, killing its commander and other officers and drawing “howls of condemnation” from the Syrian regime’s “patrons” in Tehran.
Although Israel hasn’t accepted responsibility, since 2012 the Israelis are believed to have launched more than 100 attacks on suspected Iranian-linked positions in Syria to “prevent a permanent Iranian threat on their borders and stymie the flow of weaponry to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.”
Israel’s nervousness is understandable, says Roger Boyes in The Times. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has wanted to “wipe out the state of Israel”. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described Israel as a “cancer tumour on this region that should be cut off”.
As Israel sees it, says Yaroslav Trofimov in The Wall Street Journal, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has now switched its primary mission from “preventing a collapse of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to preparing for a future confrontation with Israel”. In this context, President Trump’s “stated desire” to withdraw US forces from Syria is “only fuelling” Israel’s sense that it must act swiftly, increasing the likelihood of conflict.
Ultimately, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, IRGC commander Major General Soleimani wants to extend Iran’s grip on surrounding Arab states and “advance his position at home” in his power struggle with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But he may be “overplaying his hand”. Iranians are publicly asking why Iran is spending billions of dollars fighting wars in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Iran’s currency is “collapsing” and a confrontation with Israel would only make things worse. But “economic restraints have never stopped” Soleimani and his IRCG before and they may not now. “Their ambitions are big… Does he back down, lose a little face, and wait until he is stronger? Does Israel let him?” The status quo cannot hold.