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Could a New Mideast War Be Brewing?

A look at the implications of Saturday's Israel-Iran-Syria clash
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2018 9:20 AM CST

(Newser) – As the world's countries battled it out on the ice and the slopes on Saturday, other countries battled it out in the air, with potentially huge implications. Israel says it destroyed an Iranian drone that entered its airspace from Syria (Iran disputes this) and then had its fighter jets enter Syria and attack a base where it suspected the drone originated from. Syrian antiaircraft fire took down one of Israel's F-16s, forcing its crew to eject. Israel then responded by hitting a dozen sites in Syria, reportedly its biggest attack on Syrian air defenses in 35 years. It's also, per the LA Times, the first known attack by Israel against Iran.

  • Historically: Israel's approach to the Syrian war has largely been a hands-off one, and the Washington Post sees what happened this weekend as an indication that it may be about to get off the bench. Israel and Syria share a border, but not allies—Israel has issues with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah in addition to the Assad regime, but stayed largely uninvolved with the exception of small-scale, quietly carried out airstrikes against Hezbollah weapons installations in Syria. But as the seven-year war moves toward its end, Israel is bristling at what it sees as an apparent effort by Iran to establish military bases within Syria.

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  • What's changed: ISIS, for one, observes the Post. "US- and Russian-backed forces had a common enemy" in ISIS, which has been defeated in the country. But rather than the temperature coming down, new conflicts are heating up. "Turkey, for example, recently launched its own offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria's north, placing it in de facto opposition to the United States, which had allied itself with some Kurdish forces to defeat Islamic State forces."
  • The likelihood things will escalate: Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Rory Jones sees the potential for "another front line in war-torn Syria." He notes the last time Israel lost a fighter jet was more than three decades ago. Israel's "strong reaction illustrates how the competing aims of Iran and Israel could lead to a war between the two Mideast powers—as Tehran increases its military presence in Syria, a move Israel has warned it won't allow."
  • Israel's air prowess: The New York Times characterizes the downing of the F-16 (per the LA Times, from shrapnel, not a direct hit) as being viewed by Israel as "Saturday’s biggest surprise." As Bashar al-Assad has gained strength, he has also in the last year been more willing and aggressive in using antiaircraft missiles against Israeli incursions into its airspace. But after so many decades unscathed, Israel had established itself as seemingly untouchable in the air. No more.
(Read more Israel stories.)

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