This week, Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli positions in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and Israel’s air force struck a number of Iranian military sites inside Syria. Who fired first? Depends on whom you ask. There is clarity on one thing: This exchange represents the most intense clash between these two countries since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Syria was already the world’s most dangerous arena of potential great power conflict. This is the place where Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Kurds, jihadis and Syria’s own heavily armed government are all jostling for position while Saudis and Israelis, their fingers on the trigger, keep watch.
Why is this happening? Israel says Iran commands 80,000 soldiers in Syria, and that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is actively setting up bases near the Golan Heights. Israel, worried that Trump wants US troops out of Syria, has launched a series of airstrikes in recent weeks to send Iran a “we-see-you” message of zero tolerance. Iran, faced with renewed US sanctions, is in no mood to back down.
The bottom line: If this fight escalates, who can step in to mediate? Trump has made crystal clear which side he’s on. Russia is too directly interested in Syria’s future for either side to fully trust Moscow. Would Israel accept the EU in this role? Neither side wants a full-blown war, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get one.