Growing tensions on Israel’s northern border have raised concerns about yet another Israel-Hezbollah confrontation or a war between Israel and Iran in Syria. Such a war may not be limited to the original participants, but could involve an array of Shi’a militias and even the Assad regime, and could span the region—thereby affecting vital U.S. interests.
Two factors are driving these tensions: efforts by Hezbollah and Syria—with Iran’s help—to produce highly accurate missiles in Lebanon and Syria that could cripple Israel’s critical infrastructure and make life there intolerable; and Iran’s efforts to transform Syria into a springboard for military operations against Israel and a platform for projecting power in the Levant. Iran, however, while pursuing an anti-status quo agenda that has often brought it into conflict with Israel and the United States, has shown that it seeks to avoid conventional wars and consequent heavy losses to its own forces. Instead, it relies on proxy operations, terrorism, and non-lethal shaping activities. Yet it has occasionally been willing to venture high-risk activities that entail a potential for escalation. (Example: Iranian forces in Syria launched an explosives-laden UAV into Israeli airspace in February; it was shot down, but the incident sparked a round of clashes.)
Israel also seems intent on avoiding war, though its actions show that it is willing to accept the risk of escalation to counter these emerging threats. Indeed, since 2013 it has carried out more than 130 strikes in Syria on arms shipments destined for Hezbollah, and since late 2017 it has expanded this “campaign between the wars” to target Iranian military facilities in Syria—without, thus far, sparking a wider confrontation… more