After a lull in alleged Israel strikes in Syria, the heat has returned

Widespread strikes on Monday come a week after Damascus and Iran sign air defense deal and two weeks after the explosion at Natanz

A motorbike burns after an airstrike in this screen grab taken from a social media video said to be taken in Idlib, Syria on July 16, 2019 (photo credit: WHITE HELMETS/SOCIAL MEDIA VIA REUTERS)
A motorbike burns after an airstrike in this screen grab taken from a social media video said to be taken in Idlib, Syria on July 16, 2019
A month after Israel was last said to have struck Iranian targets in Syria, a fresh wave of airstrikes attributed to the Jewish state hit numerous targets within the war-torn country.
The strikes came in two waves and struck targets around the capital, Damascus, including a major Iranian ammunition depot and more, reportedly killing both Syrian regime forces and Iranian personnel as well as one Hezbollah operative.
It came a week and a half after Tehran and Damascus signed an agreement that would see the Islamic Republic upgrade Syria’s air defenses and two weeks after a large blast at the Natanz enrichment site caused significant damage that is estimated to have set Iran’s nuclear program back by at least a year.
The blast at Natanz was just one of over a dozen mysterious explosions and fires targeting Iran’s missile and nuclear program which have rocked Iran in recent weeks.
While Iran has not pinned the blame on Israel, it has apparently attempted a number of cyberattacks against Israel – similar to an attack on the country’s water infrastructure facilities in April. They were all thwarted.
Though cyberattacks against water facilities may be just as deadly, could Iran have been planning something in Syria that led the IAF to allegedly carry out those strikes on Monday night?
Last weekend Lt.-Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, told The Washington Post that Iran might act against Israel following the recent explosions and fires.
“Iran blames Israel, and at some point, my experience with Iran tells me they will respond,” he said.
In a recent phone call with journalists, he explained that following the killing of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, “we are in a period of what I would call contested deterrence,” where Iran is “calculating how they can achieve that goal [of regional hegemony] without crossing a red line of ours.”
In the call, McKenzie warned that following the death of Soleimani, “it’s been harder for them to come to decisions and harder for them to decide on a clear path forward.”
But Syria sits right in the middle of that plan for regional hegemony that Iran is trying to cement across the Middle East, and Israel is just as intent on preventing that plan, if not more, than the US.
Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as aspirations of regional hegemony, and has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of its “war-between-wars” (known in Hebrew as MABAM) campaign to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against Israel.
According to foreign reports, those strikes have intensified in recent months. But it’s been a month of relative quiet in the war-torn country to Israel’s north. Instead, the heat went east.
But following Monday night, it seems that the focus will once again turn to Syria. And with a new deal signed between Iran and Syria to upgrade the country’s air defenses, which are mostly Russian, it is likely that we will see another increase in strikes attributed to Israel.
While McKenzie said that the new deal would likely cause no change to the game, Israel will not allow for such weapons to be transferred to Syria, as they could potentially be used against Israeli jets.
“Iran is using Syria for its own reasons and its own purposes, and the Assad regime should be smart enough to see that,” he said. “But I don’t know that anything qualitative will change as a result of the agreement... So we’ll watch for actual actions rather than just comments and discussions.”
But Israel won’t wait until Iran transfers those weapons. It won’t allow for the Islamic Republic to make any moves that threaten the Jewish state.