As Bashar al-Assad appears to be more or less winning in most of the major Syrian battle arenas, the question of what will come next is an interesting one. Assad’s looming victory features an emboldened Iranian presence in the country, and just how far the anti-Iran axis of countries — including the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel — will go to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence throughout Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon remains to be seen.
To date, Israel feels somewhat abandoned by its traditional rivals as Russia’s role in this battle theater means there is little the major players can do to confront Iran without taking on Russia, too. As Foreign Policy explained:
“A senior delegation led by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen visited Washington in late August, reportedly to express Israel’s dissatisfaction with the emerging U.S.-Russian understanding on Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi to raise similar concerns with Moscow…In both cases, the Israelis were disappointed with the response. Their overriding concern in Syria is the free reign that all the major players there seem willing to afford Iran and its various proxies in the country. And as long as nobody else addresses that concern in satisfactory, Israel is determined to continue addressing it on its own.”
The Iranian military presence has now spread as close to Israel as physically possible, with a deployment of Iranian-backed troops adjoining the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights area. The best deal Israel has been offered so far is that the “United States has reached an agreement with Moscow that pro-Iranian militias will be kept 25 miles from the border,” Foreign Policy notes.
It is for these reasons that Israel has taken matters into their own hands multiple times throughout the conflict. Israel recently struck what they claimed was a chemical weapons factory that directly supplied arms to the Iranian-proxy army Hezbollah. Israel also shot down what was believed to be an Iranian drone operated by Hezbollah. According to Newsweek, Israel has struck Syrian territory throughout the war one hundred times (not once has the corporate media questioned the legality of this).
We should expect more strikes in the future. According to Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman, Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) will be free to operate.
Newsweek also lamented that Iran and Syria are in negotiations to give Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus.
Approximately a month ago, Israel held its largest military drill in 20 years, and it was explicitly designed to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon. A senior Israeli official also warned the Russian government that if Iran continues to expand its presence in Syria, Israel will respond by bombing the Syrian president’s palaces.
Just days ago, on Monday, Israeli jets attacked a Syrian government anti-aircraft missile launcher after it fired on Israeli aircraft patrolling Lebanese airspace on a photographic reconnaissance mission. Regional outlet Al-Masdar also reported that Israel directly bombed the Syrian Arab Army, which is currently embroiled in a battle with al-Qaeda linked militants.
To top it all off, an Israeli military general is also drafting a defense policy document with the specific goal of launching a war with Iran. However, the military general has made it quite clear that the Jewish state could not possibly take on Iran directly without the help of the United States.
The Trump administration is well aware of this. Considering Donald Trump is now reportedly seeking to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity, it should be clear where the American and Israeli chess pieces are headed. By classifying the IRGC as a terrorist group at the same time the IRGC expands its presence in Syria, it’s possible the U.S. may turn its missiles on the IRGC under the painfully nonsensical guise of fighting terrorism. If the IRGC is located in Damascus — or any other major Syrian city — then perhaps it is not too farfetched to imagine that U.S. and Israeli jets might also make their way to these locations, too.
Iran’s threat that they, too, will classify U.S. forces in the same category as ISIS militants, could also create huge potential for someone to pull the trigger on what can only be described as an international powder keg.
Of course, the only thing complicating this for the U.S. and Israel is the Soviet elephant in the room — the Russian military, which has been a staunch backer of Syria and Iran for some time now. At this stage, Russia has agreed to appease Israel by keeping Iranian forces away from the Israel-Syria border, which may end up being the de-escalation policy we have been waiting for. How the U.S. could otherwise plan to take on Iran’s proxies in Syria without clashing with the Russian air force is unclear, but desperate times on the part of Israel and the Trump administration will almost certainly call for desperate measures.