SYRIA (OBSERVATORY) – Iran and Israel traded accusations on Sunday over an unprecedented escalation that began weeks ago in hostilities between the two countries over Syria but have reduced the likelihood of a war.
Signs of confrontation between the two arch-foes have been on the horizon since February 10 when Israel announced that an unmanned Iranian drone had set sail from a Syrian base and penetrated its territory. Israel dropped the plane but lost an F-16 by Syrian surface-to-air fire during a retaliatory raid.
On April 9, an air strike killed seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards at the Syrian base. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed an unannounced response, prompting Israel to make counter-threats by expanding attacks on Iran’s military presence in Syria.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a US television interview that Israel’s further raids in Syria would have “consequences” but he saw a major escalation as unlikely.
“I do not think we are on our way to a regional war, but I think with regret that Israel continues its violations of international law in the hope that it can do so with impunity because of American support and to try to find a cover to hide behind,” Zarif told CBS News.
“The easiest answer would be to stop these acts of aggression and stop these incursions.”
Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, and Russia are backing Damascus in the face of armed opposition that began seven years ago. Israelis are concerned that Iran’s armed forces will remain and link them to Hezbollah to form a Syrian-Lebanese front against them.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed his government’s policy that Iran should not have a strong presence in Syria.
“Whatever the price, we will not allow a collar around our neck,” he said during an interview on Israeli radio.
– Deterrence –
But Lieberman said when asked if that meant the war was imminent “I hope not. I think our main role is to prevent war and this requires real and real deterrence as well as readiness to act.”
Israeli intelligence minister Israel Katz said major powers might intervene to curb Iran’s activity in Syria.
Kats told the Yediot Aharonot website that Israel was “not keen” on the escalation. But he said Israel’s show of strength “can confront the Iranians and can make it clear to Russians, who are seeking stability, that it is worth using their influence and the same applies to the United States, France and all others.”
The standoff in Syria comes as the administration of President Donald Trump is considering re-imposing US economic sanctions on Tehran by May 12, a move that could strike a 2015 international agreement that would limit the Iranians from their nuclear projects.
Zarif said Iran might respond to any cancellation of the agreement “by resuming our nuclear activities much more quickly.”
Israel strongly attacked the deal and encouraged the US review, but Katz apparently conceded the result would be costly.