New engagement rules as Iran uses Syrian ground against Israel
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
The recent escalation between military groups stationed in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel indicates possible changes in the rules of engagement between Israel and parties in the region after areas in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights were subjected to missile strikes from Syria and Lebanon, followed by Israeli shelling.
Experts and researchers spoke to Enab Baladi about Iranian political messages that may portend escalating tension coming to the region.
On April 9, the Israeli Air Force announced that its aircraft had bombed targets inside Syrian territory, which included a military compound belonging to the Fourth Division, military radar systems, and artillery sites used by the Syrian Armed Forces.
The targeting came in response to missiles fired from Syria towards the Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights, which caused no damage, according to Israeli media.
The military response did not end there, as the Israeli army bombed sites in southern Syria, and Israeli media outlets, including Channel 13, reported that the strikes targeted a headquarters belonging to Maher al-Assad, commander of the Fourth Division and brother of Bashar al-Assad.
Diaa Kaddour, a researcher on Iranian affairs, told Enab Baladi that the missiles launched from Syrian territory carried “political messages” and were not intended to cause military damage, as they constituted a violation of the “deterrence” equation that Israel is trying to create in the region bordering Syria and Lebanon.
He added that Iran had delivered its message, which included “unifying the resistance arenas” in Syria and Lebanon, especially since the missile attack came days after similar bombings originating in Lebanon, coinciding with another that originated from Palestinian factions stationed in the Gaza Strip.
Kaddour said that the escalation came a few months after the visit of the commander of the Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, to Lebanon, followed by a visit to Syria last February.
The Iranian strategy of “unifying the squares of resistance” aims to distribute military pressure on a long front in the event of an escalation against Iran in Syria and Lebanon, according to Kaddour.
The Iranian President, Ibrahim Raisi, called for forming a “united front of Islamic countries” to support Palestine and oppose Israel during a phone call with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
Rules have changed
Iranian international affairs analyst Rahman Kahramanpour said about the confrontation between Iran and Israel in an interview with the Iranian newspaper Etemad that the intensity and scope of the indirect war between Israel and Iran are constantly increasing.
In the past, this confrontation was confined only to the vicinity of Israel and inside Iran, while it has now extended to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and even the Mediterranean Sea.
According to Kahramanpour, this confrontation is gradually increasing in intensity, and its frequency and scope are constantly expanding, according to the analyst.
Iranian political analyst Hassan Merhej believes that the first goal of Israel’s attack on Syria is to “bring America into the equation,” especially since Israel was left alone in confronting Iran, along with Tel Aviv’s aspirations to transfer the internal crisis to the outside.
The Palestinian writer and political analyst loyal to the “Resistance and Opposition” movement, Sharhabil al-Gharib, said in an opinion article on the Iranian-funded al-Mayadeen website that during the recent escalation, Israel seemed “as if it had swallowed a machete,” considering the firing of rockets from the Lebanon front as “smart and elaborate planning.”
The subsequent launch of missiles from Syria gives a strong indication that the axis of resistance has decided to “change the rules of the game with Israel,” al-Gharib added.
The missile strikes coincided with an escalation in occupied Jerusalem in the middle of Ramadan month, as clashes usually occur on the Jewish Passover holiday, as settlers storm Al-Aqsa squares and perform special rituals inside the Temple Mount.
The incursions and the prevention of Muslim worshipers from entering Al-Aqsa usually develop into battles in which the Palestinian factions fire rockets at Israeli settlements, and the escalation ends after days or weeks following the intervention of regional mediation.
The presence of an extremist Israeli government has intensified recent clashes, as the Palestinian Minister of Health, Mai al-Kaila, described the first quarter of this year as the “bloodiest” in Palestine since the beginning of the third millennium, as 94 people were killed.
Al-Kaila said on April 3 that the escalation is “evidence that the far-right government is seeking to prove itself and export its crisis at the expense of Palestinian blood.”
The Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, called for the return of the assassination policy in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (Makan).
Against the background of the Israeli escalation, the local news site Gaza Now reported on April 8 that 44 rockets were launched from Gaza towards the occupied Palestinian territories.
Possibilities of a direct clash
The mutual targeting between Iran and Israel in Syria has not subsided for a long time.
Israel launched seven air raids in March and nine more since the beginning of the year inside Syria, according to the American al-Monitor website, while Israel intercepted a drone coming from Syria, as well as an attempt to infiltrate an Iranian-linked person into its territory.
The Israeli bombing resulted in the killing of officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) in Syria, according to a statement quoted by the Tasnim Agency on the Public Relations of the Revolutionary Guard.
On April 2, Reuters quoted two unnamed Western intelligence sources as saying that Israel bombed a site containing Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants, along with Iranian fighters, at the T4 Air Base, west of Palmyra, and the Dabaa military airport located near the city of Al-Qusayr.
The researcher on Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi, suggested that the indicators tend to expand the scope of the Iranian weapon used in the escalation, which will impose new rules of engagement, a greater military escalation, and a new weapon, and we may witness a limited Israeli ground incursion into the Quneitra governorate against Iranian targets, and based on the Iranian responses the amount of mutual escalation will be between the opponents.
Diaa Kaddour, an expert in Iranian affairs, believes that Israel’s current reaction to the latest targets will determine the nature of the conflict between the two sides in the region.
“But of course, the events are still far from heading towards a direct clash between the two sides,” the expert concludes.
What are the Israeli options?
The course of Israeli military deterrence in the region is still continuing, and in the future, Israel may resort to expanding the scope of its goals for the Iranian presence in Syria, says researcher al-Nuaimi.
He added that Israel is working through two interrelated tracks: the path of calm through deterrence messages, and the path of developing the air and ground intelligence effort, by investing the efforts of agents who identify Iranian targets very carefully.
Israel’s northern border, in particular, has been on alert lately, with recent air strikes blamed on Israel hitting Iranian-backed targets in Syria, I24 news channel said following the latest escalation.
The channel quoted the director of the Israeli Defense and Security Forum, Amir Avivi, as saying, “Iran is deeply involved in everything related to the West Bank, Gaza, and the northern border in an attempt to destabilize the situation in Israel.”
Avivi indicated that the “biggest threat” is the convergence of the fronts, considering that the Lebanese border is more dangerous and Hezbollah is considered more daring to carry out attacks, and it is likely that the perpetrator of the attack in the Israeli depth in March crossed from Lebanon.
The director of the Israeli Defense and Security Forum considered that Israel deals with Gaza as if it is part of the Palestinian enclave, but the truth is that it is an Iranian stronghold, and Hamas Movement is dependent on Iran like the Houthis in Yemen, adding that Israel has “the know-how and capabilities to deal with these threats.”
Israel in Syria
Israeli military vehicles have been working on constructing and paving a road inside Syrian territory since mid-2022, according to what was reported by Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Quneitra governorate and what was monitored by Israeli correspondents’ cameras during different periods of time, the most recent of which was in November 2022, when the Israeli Kan 11 channel published a report that included video recordings from inside the Syrian territories.
The Israeli army forces entered Syrian territory in mid-2022 with a military force consisting of six Merkava tanks and two military bulldozers, accompanied by a number of soldiers, to monitor borders and vehicles and to construct a road called “Sufa 53.”
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Quneitra reported that the Israeli vehicles are continuing their work in paving the road to this day, and the depth of work within the Syrian territory has reached a minimum of about 100 meters, while in other areas, it has reached one kilometer.
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