Syria Attack: 'Nobody Looking for War, But Things Could Spiral Out of Control'

© AFP 2023 / THOMAS COEX / Israeli F-15 E fighter jet, file photo.
Israeli F-15 E fighter jet, file photo. - Sputnik International
Israel is reportedly behind the missile strikes against several Syrian military bases Sunday night. Israeli media claims the attack's targets included an Iranian base. Radio Sputnik discussed the strikes with Mark Heller, principle research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Sputnik: Israel warned earlier this month that it could hit Iranian bases in Syria if tensions between Tehran and Tel Aviv were to escalate. What prompted the attack now?

Mark Heller: Tensions with Iran have been escalating largely because of an apparent ongoing Iranian effort to stockpile more advanced equipment in what is essentially a forward Iranian base in Syria and Israel's refusal to allow the Iranians to turn Syria into a base from which Israel could be attack.

Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018 - Sputnik International
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Sputnik: Haaretz has cited Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman saying that Tel Aviv would continue to declare that it had freedom to operate in Syria. What's your take on that statement?

Mark Heller: I think that Israel over almost the entire course of the Syrian civil war has been operating in Syrian airspace in order to prevent developments which impact very negatively on Israeli security –in particular, the transfer of advanced weaponry and what is sometimes called 'equation-changing' equipment to Hezbollah. 

That I think now extends as well to the transfer of equipment into Syria itself. My understanding is that Israel considers that to be an unacceptably dangerous development.

Sputnik: We've heard in recent times a lot of rhetoric in both countries being ratcheted up. What are the chances that this recent development will translate into something more serious? Or is it just continued rhetoric do you believe?

Mark Heller: I don't think anyone is looking for war, of course. But I think that the rhetoric, as well as the actions on the ground can include a risk of things spiraling out of control and escalating to a point that nobody intends to begin with.

Smoke rises after an air strike during fighting between members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants in Raqqa, Syria August 15, 2017 - Sputnik International
Reported Missile Strikes on Syrian Army Arms Depots Kill 26 - Monitoring Group
But I think it's important to stress that Israel is not threatening Iran, and not trying to use Syria as a base from which it might attack Iran, directly or using proxies. But it is true that Iranian rhetoric over the last few months has been stepped up against what it considers to be the Israeli enemy.

Sputnik: What international reaction are you expecting in regard to the reported strike? What do you expect the US to say in regard to that, or Russia?

Mark Heller: Well, Israel of course wants to do two things. It wants to be closely coordinated with the United States, and is making every effort to do that I think with some considerable degree of success. Secondly, it wants to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia, and I think thus far at least it's also been fairly successful in doing that.

Sputnik: What's your hope for the future with regard to the region?

Mark Heller: My hope is that the totally undesirable things you're describing do not actually transpire. But I'm not sure I share a confidence that that will be the case so long as Iran continues on its present course, which is threatening to bring it into confrontation not only with Israel, but also with a large number of actors throughout the Middle East. In fact the whole region throughout the last couple of years looks like it's turning into a total  confrontation between an Iranian-backed and Iranian-managed axis on the one hand and just about everybody else on the other with the possible exception of Russia.

Newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump (in red tie), first lady Melania (L), Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen (R) preside over a military parade during Trump's swearing ceremony in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017 - Sputnik International
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We've seen that the United States as well as Britain and France have taken actions against the Syrian regime. We've seen that the Saudis and the Emiratis are also trying to line up support for what they consider to be the need to oppose Iranian expansionism in that part of the Middle East.

I guess 'clash of civilizations' is perhaps too extreme a term to use here, but there is very much a broad overall tension between the Iranian-led, largely Shiite camp and just about everyone else.

The views and opinions expressed by Mark Heller are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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