Almost from the beginning of the Civil War in Syria, we’ve seen the state become a battleground for other, arguably larger, fights. The state is used as an excuse for other states to deal with each other and destroy infrastructure that isn’t theirs. One such fight that has been both diplomatically and militarily played out in this way would be between Israel and Iran. 10 February marked a real escalation in this feud when an Israeli fighter jet was shot down over Syria, which is the first time this has happened in 35 years. Of the two-man crew, both survived, though injuries were sustained. The real blow was not to the F-16 but to the Israeli feeling of security, a blow that will no doubt have repercussions for Iran and for Syria, demonstrated already by Israel’s quick and effective retaliation strike, which destroyed a large percentage of the Syrian air force.
There are four major players in this game: Russia, Syria, Israel and Iran. The U.S. is refusing to get involved.
Russia’s interests in the conflict are fairly clear. Russia is on Iran’s side in supporting the current Syrian regime. They have, however, intervened on Israel’s behalf, purely for the purpose of preventing a conflict in the region that could destroy the infrastructure they’ve worked so hard to build. Up to this point Russia has directly helped Iran in aiding the Assad regime while at the same time making sure to stay in communication with the Israelis. It has done this in an effort to stay outwardly detached from all conflict between the two. This detachment would likely fail should an actual conflict break out, Russia having to pick a side. It thus seeks to keep the current anger under control. Only time will tell if it will be successful.
The Syrian role in the possible conflict would be a realistically backseat one. While it is true that Iran has been funding Hezbollah activity in Syria and that the Syrian military has been firing air missiles at Israel, it’s much more of a background than an actual player, being too broken as a government to really contribute to a full scale conflict. It’s a pawn for Iran, used because of it’s proximity to the Israeli border and location in the Middle East overall. It’s infrastructure opportunities are also very good for a state that can better do what it would like undercover. Iran has already taken advantage of the liberties it has in Syria to build up powerful militias and new technologies used to spy on states like Israel that are deemed enemy states. Syria would undoubtably be torn apart by a war between Israel and Iran, especially since both would prefer to destroy Syrian territory than their own.
Israel is preparing for the worst, and it’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has recently been preaching rhetoric that will undoubtably help to make that happen. Choice words by the Prime Minister, uttered shortly after the attack on the F-16 proved to be hostile, ‘Yesterday we dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces,’ he said Sunday. ‘We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit. We will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us.‘ Israel is deeply worried about a growing Hezbollah presence on their borders, and even more concerned about Iran’s involvement. They see it for what it probably is: a way for Iran to build up it’s offensive plans against Israel and threaten the regional balance of power directly through the borders of Syria. While Israel has made it clear that they will thwart this attack in every way possible, including punishing the Assad government in response to Iran’s buildup, Israel finds itself without a real ally. Russia is looking to prevent a conflict, but due to it’s interests in Syria, would most likely side with Iran. The United States, Israel’s usual ally, seems to be trying to stay out of the conflict altogether. This means that Israel is most likely to react more rashly, as shown by it’s quick and dramatic response to the plane incident. It’s fear of being overcome as the region’s hegemon makes it more likely to do everything it can to preserve it’s position, Israel’s defense minister confirming this point: ‘We will continue to defend our vital security and other interests. And I would like to paraphrase the well-known saying: ‘This is not the time to bark, this is the time to bite.” It will undoubtably continue it’s launching attacks to frustrate paramilitary infrastructure build ups in the area, and continue to work with local rebel rebels groups in an effort to at the very least preserve the safety of it’s border. Both of these mean a continued involvement in Syria, and likely mean that such involvement is here to stay.
Iran is the last and perhaps most divisive player in this major conflict. It’s involvement in Syria is purely for strategic reasons. It’s own division rife for political gain, and it’s need for foreign investment in order to prop up any sort of infrastructure in the state means that Iran has virtually free reign over anything it chooses to do there. Iran sees this as the perfect way to get under Israel’s skin without having to hurt any of it’s own people. In Iran the idea of a conflict has mixed views: ‘Iran’s leaders, right and left, know open conflict with Israel would give Trump the excuse he yearns for – to tear up the nuclear deal, reimpose swingeing sanctions, gang up with Saudi Arabia, and possibly order military intervention. Some in Iran would welcome a showdown with the Great Satan. Most would not.’ A war would mean bringing in many more states and creating a large regional war. Whether or not this is something that Iran is seeking based on it’s strategic moves and desire to main a strong foothold in Syria, remains to be seen.
A war in the area would be destructive, costly, not particularly worth it, and would most likely involve the use of Syria as the main battleground. Sadly, Syria is in over it’s head in this one, it’s own say in the conflict being minimal. It remains to be seen if the recent achievements for both sides in the state will be enough to keep them from fighting or if it do just the opposite.