Israel’s shadow war with Iran risks triggering wider conflict, analysts say

“If you infringe on their sovereignty — how much are they going to tolerate it?” Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations, said.

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AUG. 20, 201909:27Aug. 29, 2019, 3:16 PM GMT+1By Saphora Smith, Linda Givetash and Lawahez Jabari

LONDON — A recent series of airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that neighboring countries blame on Israel risks escalating into a wider conflict, some analysts say.

The strikes — most of which Israel has not claimed responsibility for — began Saturday when Israel claimed to have thwarted an imminent Iranian attack by striking an elite wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guardnear Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter that the Iranian fighters were targeting Israelis living in the Golan Heights, a region that Israel annexed from Syria after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University, London, said there was a risk Israel would overstep and trigger a retaliation from its neighbors.

“If you infringe on their sovereignty — how much are they going to tolerate it?” he said. “We’re talking fine margins here and both sides can miscalculate.”

Image: Sign in the Golan Heights
An Israeli army outpost in the Golan Heights shows a directional sign for cities and places across the world.Jalaa Marey / AFP – Getty Images

On Sunday, Lebanon’s Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah accused Israel of hitting its media center in southern Beirut, and an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group said Israeli drones had struck one of its positions near the Syrian border, killing one fighter and seriously injuring another. Hours later, Lebanese state media reported that Israeli drones had targeted the base of a Palestinian faction in eastern Lebanon.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined to comment on the strikes in Lebanon and Iraq but did say it was responsible for the attack in Syria.

“Israeli attacks on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the same period,” said Nikolaos van Dam, a former Dutch ambassador to Iraq and special envoy for Syria. “It doesn’t look like a state being threatened, but rather like an Israeli threat and intimidation against its main adversaries in the region, including Iran.”

Israel, which views Tehran as its existential threat, has traditionally kept quiet about its military operations against Iran in the region. But it recently acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years.