The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched airstrikes and rocket bombardments on Sunday, June 2, against several Syrian military and intelligence targets on Syrian territory. Syrian media reported that five people were killed in an attack on an airbase in Homs, where the Syrian military managed to destroy two of the rockets targeting the base.

We will not tolerate any firing into our territory and we will respond with great force to any aggression against us.

The airstrike came close on the heels of a separate attack on military positions south of Damascus, in which three Syrian soldiers and seven foreign fighters were reportedly killed. The IDF claimed that two rockets had been fired from Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights region late at night on June 1, prompting Israel’s retaliatory attack. A spokeswoman for the IDF said that it was not immediately evident who had fired the rockets, but that regardless the Syrian army is responsible for attacks originating in its own territory. In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that attacks on Israeli territory would be met with reciprocal force: “We will not tolerate any firing into our territory and we will respond with great force to any aggression against us.”

Sunday’s hostilities came in the wake of similar attacks just days before. On Monday, May 27, the IDF carried out a rocket attack on a military position in the Quneitra province of Syria, near the Golan Heights, killing at least one soldier and injuring several others, according to Syrian media sources. In a statement released on the same day, Israel’s military claimed that it had attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft position that had fired on one of its warplanes engaged in a routine flight. The plane was reportedly undamaged, but the projectile landed within Israeli territory. In a video statement released later that day, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he had ordered the Israeli strike in retaliation for hostile actions against Israel.

The recent hostilities are symptomatic of the mounting antagonism between the two nations. Syria continues to assert its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, after the Middle East war. Syria failed to retake the region during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and the following year the states agreed to a disengagement. A 70-kilometer demilitarized zone was set up under the auspices of the United Nations. The parties never signed a formal peace treaty, however, and the nations have remained at war with one another. Syria refuses to entertain a peace deal with Israel until it restores the Golan Heights.  

The conflicts have also been spurred, to a large degree, by Hezbollah and Iranian military presence in Syria, which Israel regards as a threat to its security.

The conflicts have also been spurred, to a large degree, by Hezbollah and Iranian military presence in Syria, which Israel regards as a threat to its security. In January, the IDF tweeted that it had struck several Iranian military targets within Syrian territory, causing up to 21 casualties, most of whom were Iranian nationals. The targets had included intelligence posts, munitions storage, and military training locations. The Israeli strikes were carried out in response to mutual fire across the Syrian-Israeli border, and were allegedly precipitated when Iranian troops fired missiles from a launch site near Damascus into Israeli territory. 

In response to the Israeli attack, Iranian Airforce General Aziz Nasirzadeh released the following incendiary statement: “The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth.”

Israel has asserted that its attacks are carried out in order to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and by extension to protect Israeli borders. Since the outbreak of the civil war there, Iran has been establishing a foothold in Syria and has provided military assistance to Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian regime has remained one of Iran’s few regional allies since the Islamic revolution in the late 1970s. Iran’s ostensible objective is to cement its regional power by upholding Assad, or, failing that, by maintaining the necessary conditions to exert its own control over the region. Syria has, in turn, become the stage for a “shadow-war” between Iran and Israel, with Israel carrying out a series of strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah military positions in Syria over the last few years. 

The U.S. has assured its allies that it is still committed to removing the Iranian presence from Syria, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the war-torn nation.

The U.S. has assured its allies that it is still committed to removing the Iranian presence from Syria, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the war-torn nation. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited the region in March, promised to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, and to “bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people.” 

U.S.-Iran relations have been particularly poor since the U.S. pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. Since then, the U.S. has increased sanctions on Iran, attempting to severely damage its economy through restrictions on the trade of currency and industrial goods. In May, an Iranian official warned that certain factions in the current U.S. administration are spoiling for war. The U.S. recently deployed 1,500 troops, along with ships and warplanes to the Gulf region, in response to what it describes as “Iranian threats.” On May 19, President Trump threatened in a tweet to end Iran:

Trump’s Tweet

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1130207891049332737

Recent events between Israel and its neighbors paint an ominous picture for the future of the region, yet also show the worrying fragility of relations between the major powers backing the belligerents. The current hostilities are symptomatic of a deeper political contretemp that may worsen without concessions from either camp. A resolution to the conflict between Syria and Israel is unlikely while the overall political climate of the region grows increasingly hostile.