America's top intelligence officials are warning that Iran could soon launch a major conventional attack against Israel if the Jewish state continues to attack its military assets in Syria.
US President Donald Trump's director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that while "Iran seeks to avoid a major armed conflict with Israel...Israeli strikes that result in Iranian casualties increase the likelihood of Iranian conventional retaliation against Israel."
On January 20, Iranian forces fired a medium-range surface-to-surface missile at Israel in what it called a warning to stop harassing its forces.
Israel has made clear that it deems an Iranian military presence in Syria to be a threat to its national security, an existential threat, even. Indeed, Iran has made no secret of the fact that its presence in Syria is meant to threaten Israel.
As such, Israel has repeatedly stated that it will do whatever necessary to hinder and halt the Iranian military buildup there. And those words have been backed by action in the form of hundreds of devastating airstrikes against Iranian targets over the past two years.
Those airstrikes have primarily focused on infrastructure and weaponry, and not on killing Iranian personnel. But an aerial raid earlier this month did leave at least a dozen Iranian soldiers dead, and this is what concerns Washington.
According to Coats, the risk might not be worth the reward. He noted that the effectiveness of the Israeli strikes notwithstanding, Iran has not been prevented from establishing itself in Syria. "Iran continues to pursue permanent military bases and economic deals in Syria and probably wants to maintain a network of Shia foreign fighters there despite Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria," explained the American intelligence chief.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Tuesday expressed growing concern over the presence of Iranian ground forces in neighboring Syria.
The embattled regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has long been propped up financially and logistically by the Islamic Republic.
But fresh reports suggest Iranian ground forces are now massing in Syria to help Assad remain in power. This in addition to the large-scale presence of Iranian proxy Hezbollah, and the introduction of Russian military forces in recent weeks.
Steinitz stressed in an interview with Army Radio that Israel continues to take no official position on whether or not Assad should be deposed, since most of the rebel forces opposing him are actually worse than the ruling regime, but that permitting Iran to flex its military muscles in such a way is a dangerous mistake.
This move “has opened a direct front [between Israel and] Iran,” warned Steinitz, urging Russia and the international community to “ensure the Iranian army remains in Iran.”
Already Israel fears unintentional exchanges of fire between its own forces and the Russian military in Syria. Such a flare-up between Israeli and Iranian forces could give Tehran the excuse it needs to launch a long-range missile assault on the Jewish state.