The shadow war between Iran and Israel is now in the open as Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Iranian military targets inside Syria. Israel says the Iranians launched a rocket attack from Syrian territory just hours earlier on Tuesday. The lethal, cross-border exchanges — a result of the pissing match over Iran’s presence in Syria — took place a little more than a day after the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. Gee, who would have thunk that Trump violating the Iran deal would have consequences?
Moscow did not condemn Israel’s strikes, calling on Israel and Iran to resolve their differences diplomatically, possibly while Putin laughs at how he’s playing both sides. Russia and Iran have been allies in the Syrian war, with some analysts say the aims of Russia and Iran are diverging: Moscow prefers a strong secular central government in Syria, while Tehran prefers a weaker government that would allow Iran-backed militias free rein. Israel, pretending innocence all the while, has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly. Before Thursday, though, Iran had not retaliated. The Iranians have a lot to lose if the conflict continues to grow and still seem determined to preserve the nuclear accord despite renewed American sanctions. Britain, France, Germany and Russia were quick to call for calm. The White House condemned the missile attack on Israel, but then spoke out of the other side of Trump’s face, saying it strongly supported “Israel’s right to act in self-defense” and called on Iran “to take no further provocative steps.”
Following up on breaking the Iran Deal, U.S. sanctions on Iran began again on Thursday as the Treasury Department said it had teamed with the United Arab Emirates to disrupt an Iranian currency exchange network that transferred millions of dollars, in coordination with Iran’s central bank, to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Iran has built and trained large militias with thousands of fighters and sent advisers from its Revolutionary Guards Corps to Syrian military bases. Israel’s political and security establishment has been vowing to stop Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily across Israel’s northern frontier and to build what Israeli and American officials refer to as a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon.
Israel’s strikes early Thursday were some of the country’s largest aerial operations in decades across the Syrian frontier, and by far the broadest direct attack yet on Iranian assets. In recent years, Iran has helped Hezbollah amass a huge arsenal of rockets it can use against Israel as a deterrent against Israeli strikes on Iran’s nuclear program. “Israel doesn’t want another Hezbollah inside Syria, it doesn’t want another Lebanon,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Israelis think they can surgically strike and not create a wider conflict. They think that Assad, working with the Russians, will have an incentive not to respond.”
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