Zolfaghar missiles are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

Following a US-led strike on Syrian targets last week — which changed little in the equation on the ground vis-à-vis the Bashar al-Assad regime, Russia and the United States — analysts continue to look through the smoke at what many say is a significantly more dangerous situation. The Israel-Iran conflict in Syria is heating up, and is already morphing from a proxy battle into a direct confrontation.

Scholars at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution wrote on Wednesday that, following an Israeli strike on a military base in Syria last week, it is only a matter of time before the next escalation. The strike killed seven Iranians and may have destroyed a drone infrastructure project, and there are already signs retaliation is in the works.

“Iranian media gave extensive coverage to the Israeli attack on T-4 last week. Iranian leaders, most noticeably Ali Akbar Velayati, the top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, issued direct threats of retaliation,” authors Dror Michman and Yael Mizrahi-Arnaud said.

“Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, also warned Israel that this time there would be a steep price to pay; the highly publicized funerals of Quds forces personnel was the latest such indication. Iran is now both deeply and publicly committed to retaliate. The stage is set,” the article warns ominously.

“While the intentions are clear, there remains considerable debate over what form the retaliation would take. In the Middle East, these nuances matter. […] A missile salvo appears to be the most appropriate Iranian response, both in terms of capabilities and risk calculation (and mirroring the Israeli missiles launched at T-4). However, the more crucial question is what target they will choose.”

Iran will likely try to find a delicate balance should they respond with an attack that the Russians “would find tolerable and containable,” the article asserts, but it is unclear what, if anything, would be easily contained.

Any strike on a significant Israeli military target, one likely scenario, would have to inflict negligible damage, the authors suggest. Otherwise it is hard to imagine an Israeli response would be contained.

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