Analysis: Are Israel and Iran on the verge of war?

Iran’s decision to send a drone into Israeli airspace and the IDF response targeting Iranian positions in Syria amount to a marked escalation of the conflict. What’s next?

By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Did the Iranians send a drone into Israeli air space as a provocation? Was Israel’s retaliation strong enough to deter future Iranian aggression? World Israel News (WIN) spoke with several top analysts in an effort get answers following the weekend escalation.

The decision by Iran to send a drone into Israeli airspace and the subsequent punishing air strikes by Israel targeting Iranian military facilities in Syria on Saturday amount to a marked escalation in Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Indeed, it was the first direct military clash between the two nations, enemies since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. But neither side appears to want a full-scale war right now.

These latest developments may be a way to test Israel’s declared ‘red lines’ and resolve to push back against clear provocations.

From an Iranian perspective, the drone that entered into Israeli air space was designed to send a signal to Israel that it will not accept further Israeli strikes against its targets in Syria. Another message from the Iranians was that they can enter Israeli air space and will continue to do so unless Israel stops its cross-border raids.

The Iranians are intent on continuing to establish military bases in Syria. They view the Mediterranean Sea as Iran’s western strategic border, and they are determined to establish their presence and that of their proxies on the Golan Heights border with Israel. At the same time, the civil war is ongoing in Syria, and the Iranians are not ready for a full-scale confrontation with Israel at this time.

From an Israeli perspective, the drone incursion was a clear escalation, giving Israel a green light to hit back forcefully.

‘Confrontation with Israel is a good distraction’

Middle East analyst Amotz Asa-El told WIN, “There is every reason to suspect that this drone was a premeditated act on the part of Iran. They want a confrontation in order to distract from their own domestic problems, including the acute economic chaos resulting in the recent upheaval and now the women’s protests. A confrontation with Israel is a good distraction.”

“Strategically, Iran is committed to ‘imperial Persian expansion,’ and that includes an overland corridor stretching from the Iranian border to the Syrian and Lebanese coasts. Israel’s strategic interest is simply to keep the enemy far from the borders,” Asa-El said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it this way: “Israel wants peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any attempt by Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria or anywhere else. Our policy is absolutely clear: Israel will defend itself against any attempt to harm our sovereignty.”

The drone remained in Israeli airspace for an estimated 90 seconds before it was downed by a combat helicopter. Israeli then launched airstrikes on a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including on the control center that launched the UAV.

In the view of Iranian-born Israeli Middle East commentator Meir Javedanfar, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard acted independently when making the decision to send in a drone and thereby invite an Israeli response. “The Iranians are refusing to acknowledge that they lost a UAV or that they suffered any other loses in the Israeli reprisal,” Javedanfar told WIN. “Iran will coordinate with Syria, but they are bent on maintaining a military presence in the country and are willing to fight for it. They are not ready for war, but they are also not going to wither away. They are going to put up a fight to see how far they can go.”

‘It’s now a grave situation’

There are analysts who think the Israeli retaliation was not strong enough. Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies told WIN, “We could be on the cusp of a very serious conflagration. These are the bitter fruits of mismanagement of the 2006 Lebanon war that left Iranian proxy Hezbollah intact. Their arsenal has now swollen to the point that they have become a grave strategic threat. The Iran nuclear deal and the Obama administration’s failed policy enriched the regime in Iran. Backing away from confrontation in the past actually backed us into this confrontation. It’s now a grave situation and Iran is not likely to be deterred or scared off. Our reaction was not strong enough. Destroying a few Iranian positions does very little. We have not deterred Iran or Hezbollah until we diminish their will to engage.”