By Arab News
Israel’s attack on Iranian targets in Syria has raised fears of a major conflict between the two powers — with some alarmist, if predictable, headlines warning it could mark “the start of World War III.”
But while the move — in response to an alleged Iranian attack — certainly marks an escalation, commentators have played down the likelihood of all-out war. One said this would be “suicide” for Tehran, despite all its tough talk.
Israel is thought to have carried out at least three separate attacks against Iranian positions in Syria in recent weeks. But the latest is said to be the biggest ever — with Israel apparently emboldened by US President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw from the nuclear deal between Tehran and Western powers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran had “crossed a red line” by targeting Israel’s forces in the occupied Golan Heights, and that the resulting bombardment, which a monitor said killed 23 fighters, “was a consequence.”
Yet amid this increasingly dangerous exchange, commentators said the Iranian regime has no interest in a major conflict — despite previous threats that it could “destroy” Israel.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, said neither Israel nor the Iranian regime wants to initiate a direct armed conflict.
“Tehran prefers asymmetrical warfare and deploying third parties in foreign territories to attack Israel,” he said.
“This has been the modus operandi … for almost four decades. In addition, Iranian leaders are aware that they have inferior military capabilities (compared with) Israel and its ally the US.
“Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has sent a message that Washington will stand with Israel against Iran’s military adventurism and expansionist policies. During the Obama administration, the US sided mainly with Iran. Finally, Russia’s geopolitical tilt toward Assad and Iran means Moscow can hardly play an objective role as a mediator.”
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international-relations scholar, said the alleged Iranian attack on Israeli forces was directly related to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
While Israel might have been emboldened by the US move, Tehran feels “frustrated” by it, he added.
Al-Shehri told Arab News: “There have been many Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria in the past, but Iran never reacted. So why now? The answer is simple. Iran is frustrated … Iran wants to convey the message that it is angry because of Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal.”
But he said the attack was merely a “limited action,” which did not cross into recognized Israeli territory.
“Iran has no plan to clash with the West or Israel. Their nefarious project is aimed only at the Arab and Gulf countries,” added Al-Shehri.
He said there was no possibility of the incident turning into a bigger conflagration, with Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah knowing “their limits.”
“They know that if they embark on any misadventure, they will be finished,” said Al-Shehri.
“Even Russia cannot protect them beyond a certain point. Iran and its militias will not commit suicide and lose all they have gained in Syria through subterfuge.
“Iran’s actions are only to incite emotions (in the Muslim world). Iran is not interested in taking on Israel. They deceived many Arabs and Muslims. And sadly, many people are still deceived by the Iranians, even after what they have done in Yemen and Syria; despite all their atrocities and killings.”
Yahya Al-Aridi, a Syrian opposition spokesman, told Arab News that Iran lives off its hostility toward Israel and the US. “Iran’s mullahs escape from problems inside Iran and cover that up with wars and proxy wars outside their borders,” he said.