Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria


The crisis in Syria continues and, as of today, every player involved realizes that the struggle cannot go on forever through proxy wars fought by non-state actors. The situation is already extremely complex on the ground because of the high number of players. There are the forces loyal to Bashar Assad, militants controlled by Iran including those from Hezbollah, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) supported by Turkey, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which includes the U.S.-backed People's Protection Units (YPG), Daesh – which nobody knows who is behind – and the Nusra Front, which benefits from the support of various players who change frequently. In the meantime, millions of innocent Syrians had to leave their homes, and even their country, becoming refugees – without forgetting hundreds of thousands of those who lost their lives. The crisis which erupted seven years ago as a domestic political unrest has turned into a devastating war in which regional powers such as Iran, Israel and Turkey, along with major global powers, the U.S. and Russia, are involved.

The situation is evolving constantly, and recently, we have reached a level where interstate war has become a real possibility. Everyone is picking a side, while Turkey and the Assad regime, the regime and the U.S., the U.S. and Turkey, Russia and the U.S., Turkey and Iran, Israel and Iran are pointing their guns at one and other. This is very reminiscent of the imbroglio that existed right before the World War I. One can only hope that this time the outcome will not be the same. The point is, involved players seem to be ready to engage in an inter-state war, rather than pursuing their goals through local proxies. Israel's latest military action has the potential to accelerate the events.

In a sense, Israel has demonstrated its desire to trigger an inter-state war as soon as possible, in order to turn the page of proxy wars. It is a call for all countries to stop hiding behind obscure organizations and accomplish what they want in Syria by themselves. Israel is dissatisfied by the current situation, because it believes no matter the outcome of the Syrian crisis, Iran will benefit from it. It is true that Iran is more influent than ever in the region thanks to the Assad regime; and that's why Israel has targeted Assad's forces and the Iranians at the same time. Iran probably understood what Israel was trying to do, as it responded accordingly by taking down an Israeli plane. In brief, the risk of having a classical inter-state war between Israel and Iran is now higher than ever.

It is impossible to know if such a war will indeed take place, or if it does, who might win, and what the consequences will be. What is sure is that the entire region, from Egypt to Iran, and from Syria to Yemen, will plunge into total chaos if this happens. Even if one of the belligerents wins this war on the battlefield, neither of them can win at the negotiation table that would appear afterwards. Because the international circumstances will not allow neither Israel nor Iran to change radically the regional balance of power as they like it. Moreover, even if war starts between Israel and Iran, these two will not be able to dictate the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and they know it.

The risks are growing, though. That's why this scenario, which may seem irrational, can become reality. Maybe the growing risk of inter-state wars will serve as a sign for the countries involved that tells them where to stop. Maybe Russia and the U.S., Iran and Israel, or Turkey and the Assad regime will now be able to agree on the lines not to be crossed. These lines will not be about the lasting political solution in Syria, we are not there yet. They will mean, however, a cease-fire everybody will have to respect and which will freeze them with whatever they got at the moment. One of the reasons why Israel feels it is urgent to accelerate this process is that Turkey's weight keeps growing one the ground.

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