Intel: What’s behind the escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria

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The Mount Hermon resort in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was operating at capacity when skiers noticed two smoke trails in the sky. Soon they converged into a bright flash as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted a surface-to-surface missile headed toward the slopes, the first time Iranian forces in Syria are accused of targeting civilian population centers.

Why it matters: Israeli intelligence sources wasted no time blaming Sunday’s foiled attack on Iranian militias. The missile was probably itself fired in reaction to an Israeli attack against an Iranian base near Damascus airport last week. The Israelis responded with a large-scale air attack Monday night against a dozen targets, half of them Iranian Quds Force sites and the other Syrian army air defense batteries. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 12 Iranians and four Syrian soldiers were killed.

Sending a message: In addition to its forceful response, the Israeli military set aside its traditional policy of deliberate vagueness and publicly claimed responsibility for the strike. This comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted last week about previous strikes in Syria, as did former Israeli army chief Gadi Eizenkot. Israel is widely seen as using its airstrikes to deliver a message to the Iranians that it will not allow its forces to threaten Israel from within Syria as the United States prepares to pull out its troops.

What's next: Israel fully expects the Iranians to respond to its latest counter-strike. The army has moved additional Iron Dome batteries to the north, and the Israeli air force is on constant alert. Iran has denied that any of its soldiers were killed, but recent statements don’t suggest Teheran is backing down from the fight.

All eyes on Gaza: The Iranian response may well come on another front, namely Gaza. Iran is pushing Palestinian organizations to escalate their confrontation with Israel in the besieged enclave. Today an Israeli officer was wounded by a sniper shot, while a Palestinian gunman was killed and four others were wounded by an Israeli tank shell.

Know more: In his recent column for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, Akiva Eldar writes that Netanyahu wants to be seen as standing up to the Iranians ahead of the April elections.

Danny Zaken

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Found in: Syria Conflict

Al-Monitor Staff

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