Free Syrian Army fighters fire an anti-aircraft weapon in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
And Israel’s military actions are unlikely to abate, as its fundamental aim is to prevent Syria from being used as a base to threaten its interest. “To that end, Israel will continue to target Iranian military infrastructure in Syria and attempt to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons of Hezbollah,” Turner added.
Following the Iranian foreign ministry’s statement, Hezbollah issued one of its own: Naim Qassesm, the group’s deputy secretary-general, announced that Iran would retaliate at a time and place of its choosing.
The next major flashpoint between the two? The Assad regime’s fight for the southwestern city of Daraa, some 50 miles from the Israeli border.
“The Israeli military fears the regime will use Hezbollah and Iranian forces to fight the battle and entrench themselves near the city,” said Eurasia Group’s Rome. He described this as “intolerable” for Israel, which would act militarily to stop the establishment of permanent Iranian positions.
But while escalation is increasing, an all-out war between the two is unlikely, Murphy believes. “I don’t think that’s on the cards right now. The Iranian goal is to make sure Assad survives.”
And so far the Syrian president has done so, with the help of Tehran and Moscow, and is consolidating his power in much of the country.
“It’s a game that has its dangers,” the ambassador said. “It’s intense seeming, but it can be controlled by Tehran and Jerusalem, and I think they would not seek open warfare,” Murphy said, adding that Syria itself is in no condition to be in active conflict against Israel.
But each Israeli strike risks retaliation, said Turner, and “that has the potential to trigger a new cycle of escalation and violence that may not be easily contained.”