Hostilities re-ignite in Syria between the US and Iran
According to the US defense chief, the US launched airstrikes against Iran-affiliated groups in eastern Syria in response to a drone attack that killed a US contractor.
The airstrikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of 14 pro-Iran fighters. This is not the first time US bases in northeast Syria have been targeted, with the US having responded with airstrikes in the past.
President Biden authorized Thursday night’s airstrikes on facilities used by groups affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), which has been linked to recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria.
The president, while offering condolences to the family of the US contractor killed, emphasized that the US does not seek conflict with Iran but will act forcefully to protect its people.
In addition to the drone attack, another US base in northeastern Syria was targeted with rockets on Friday morning, although there were no reported injuries.
Israel’s role and nuclear tensions
Israel has also been continuing its bombing campaign against the Iran-backed Assad regime, and stepping up its rhetoric against Iran, as suspicion of the Iranian development of a nuclear arsenal rises.
Israel has a history of using military action to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, weapons exports, and drone technology program. However, in recent months, Israel’s willingness to take risks has increased. In January, Israel launched a strike on pro-Iranian groups in Syria that caused the Damascus international airport to shut down. Later that month, reports emerged that Israel had carried out a drone attack on a military site in the Iranian city of Isfahan, prompting fears of retaliation from Iran. In response, Iran launched a drone attack on a commercial shipping tanker in the Arabian Sea owned by an Israeli businessman. Last month Israel reportedly carried out a significant strike on Iranian officials meeting in a residential neighborhood in Damascus.
Most recently, an Israeli air attack has hit Syria’s Aleppo airport causing some “material damage” in the second strike on the facility this month, the Syrian defence ministry has said, according to news reports.
Marking the third attack on Aleppo International Airport in six months, Israel launched “a number of missiles from the Mediterranean Sea, west of the coastal city of Latakia, at 3:55 am” (00:55 GMT), the defence ministry said early on Wednesday in a statement on Facebook.
Israel told the Biden administration and several European countries that Iran would be entering dangerous territory that could trigger an Israeli military strike if it enriches uranium above the 60% level, a senior Israeli official told Axios.
The Israeli government is continuing to prepare for a possible military strike in Iran, Israeli officials said. At the same time, it is pressuring the US to respond forcefully to Iranian escalations in Syria to prepare for possible military support for Israel in the case of a war with Iran.
Will the situation escalate?
Following the recent missile and drone attacks in Syria, pro-Iranian forces in the region have warned of potential retaliation against further US air strikes on their positions.
The Iranian Advisory Committee in Syria released an online statement on Friday, stating that their fighters had been killed and injured in previous US air strikes and that they had the capability to respond if targeted again.
While two Syrian opposition activist groups reported new US air attacks on eastern Syria on Friday, several US officials denied that any such attacks took place.
Despite the sensitive political climate due to the US-Iran tensions and stalled nuclear talks, experts do not expect a significant escalation, as tit-for-tat strikes have been ongoing for some time and have not resulted in casualties.
During the Trump administration, Israel adopted a more aggressive stance towards Iran, targeting both nuclear and non-nuclear sites within Iran. Israeli leaders welcomed Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran. However, with the election of Joe Biden as US president, who has shown a willingness to return to diplomacy and revive the Iran nuclear deal, this hawkish approach has been challenged. Now, with changing political dynamics in Iran, Israel, and the US, the risk of escalation is once again increasing.
Nevertheless, although Israel is pushing towards further escalation, it is unlikely that it would risk a full-scale war with Iran without US support, which at this moment the latter intends to avoid.