This month, Israel launched its largest attack against on Syria in over 40 years, responding to missile launches from Iranian positions across the border.
Since the defeat of ISIS in Syria, Iran has taken advantage of the power vacuum, moving large amounts of offensive weaponry to different bases scattered around that war -weary country.
One of Iran’s strategic goals is the elimination of Israel. It has acted against the Jewish state in many ways, including bankrolling Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah – three terrorist organizations that have attacked countless Israeli civilians for years.
(In fact, Hezbollah, which currently has 140,000 missiles aimed at Israel and is completely at Iran’s command, has gained power in Lebanon’s government and has entrenched itself there to the point that it commands power over all affairs of government.)
Clearly, Israel does not want missiles aimed at her from Lebanon and Syria. It has made clear that an Iranian offensive presence in Syria will not be tolerated, bombing weapons convoys from Iran to Hezbollah that pass through Syria dozens of times.
This month, Israel took an even more daring step, bombing Iranian military sites in Syria, eventually prompting Iran to retaliate against Israeli targets in the Golan Heights. That, in turn, led to a massive Israeli retaliation against Iranian infrastructure in Syria that destroyed many targets, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Israel won this latest round. Iranian missiles launched at the Golan were either shot down by the Iron Dome protection system or they landed on Syria’s side of the border, and Syrian anti-aircraft batteries were ineffective.
Iran is outmatched in Syria by Israel, and it is hard to imagine ways it can retaliate without launching an all-out war. That would mean ordering Hezbollah to attack with everything it has, which would likely unleash another massive Israeli counter-strike.
No level-headed leader in Israel, Iran or even Russia, which has a military presence in Syria, wants that kind of escalation.
If Iran seeks retribution against Israel, then it might target her soft underbelly: Israeli – and Jewish – institutions worldwide.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Iran was directly responsible for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and that city’s Jewish Community Center in 1994. It launched a deadly attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, and its agents have been arrested around the world for planning or attempting still other attacks.
Israeli and Jewish institutions around the world will be increasing security in the possible – yet still unlikely – event of an Iranian attack.
Iran might still do nothing. In fact, she might be moving in this direction as her propaganda machine has denied that there are any Iranian bases in Syria and that Israeli claims of an attack are fake, allowing her to save face.
Perhaps Iran was deterred enough by Israel’s response to conclude that more attacks from Syria wouldn’t be worth the price.
Perhaps, with the United States abandoning the nuclear deal, Iran might decide she has more pressing problems. Perhaps Russia will restrain Iran, fearful that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad could be in jeopardy if caught in the Israeli-Iranian crossfire.
One thing is certain, though. Israel and Iran have reached a new level of animosity. Wars are hard to predict and harder still to contain. They can start inadvertently with either side. Keep your eye on the Golan and take nothing for granted.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)