High risk of Israel-Iran conflict erupting within weeks as potential for dramatic moves on Syria, Lebanon and nuclear fronts grows.
The ongoing Israel-Iran conflict has been fought mostly behind the scenes, with some eruptions of limited warfare. However, dramatic developments in the coming weeks could spark major escalation and intense fighting in the region.
As Israel prepares for the departure of President Donald Trump, three fronts will become more explosive in the coming weeks. The likelihood of aggressive moves in this period is growing, and with it the danger of a military clash or an all-out war. Below are three flashpoints that could explode into open conflict:
Israel-Iran conflict in Syria
The Israel-Syria battlefront may be the most volatile in the near future. Israeli defense officials see a window of opportunity to boost the pressure on Iranian forces in Syrian territory, Maariv reported on Friday.
The IDF believes that it can achieve a significant turning point in the battle against Iran by intensifying military strikes while enjoying US backing, the report said.
The wide-ranging assault on Iranian targets this week hints to what may be in store. Israel was signaling to Iran and its proxies that the relative quiet in recent months is over, military analyst Yoav Limor wrote.
Notably, the IDF offensive was followed by an Israeli publicity campaign to build legitimacy for more strikes.
The army, in a rare move, immediately claimed responsibility for the strike and highlighted Iran’s malicious activities in Syria. Defense officials accused Quds Force of arranging a recent attempt to plant explosives at the border, and specifically blamed Iran’s secretive Unit 840.
Meanwhile, two ministers gave radio interviews to stress that Israel will note tolerate hostile Iranian activity. Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen warned that Israel will firmly enforce its red lines and block Iran’s entrenchment.
The belligerent rhetoric and IDF outlook suggest that the bombing campaign in Syria will intensify shortly. An Iranian response will almost certainly spark a major clash.
High tension in Lebanon
While all eyes are on Syria, Lebanon remains a dangerous front where fighting could erupt at any moment. The IDF has been on high alert for a Hezbollah attack for months and still expects the group to strike.
Notably, in recent weeks there’s been an uptick of incidents at the border, as Hezbollah apparently tests the IDF’s defenses and response time to border breaches.
More dramatically, Israel is mulling a preemptive strike on Hezbollah’s precision missile factories in Lebanon, journalist Alex Fishman recently wrote. On Friday, he reiterated that senior diplomatic officials continue to warn that the IDF could strike this year to stop industrial-scale missile production.
A deadly Hezbollah attack, and certainly an IDF assault on missile factories in Lebanon, will spark a significant clash. A senior IDF officer recently said that the army is ready for a very violent confrontation and has some surprises for Hezbollah.
War with Iran if US strikes
President Donald Trump apparently still considers a US strike on Iran’s nuclear project, Fishman wrote in an article published Friday by Yediot Ahronoth daily. Trump could order a strike in January 2021 in response to an Iranian revenge attack for the killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, Fishman said. The assassination’s anniversary is coming up.
Fishman noted that Trump previously ignored his advisers when ordering Soleimani’s killing and could do the same now. Moreover, the decision to replace the US secretary of defense also suggests that the president is planning bold moves and clearing potential obstacles, Fishman said.
Top Israeli and US officials have been meeting and talking frequently in recent weeks, raising speculation that the two sides are coordinating joint action. However, Fishman wrote that the White House or Pentagon have not given Israel any indication that a strike on Iran’s nuke sites is forthcoming.
Early warning of a strike is crucial, Fishman said, as a US attack will immediately prompt an Iranian missile offensive on Israel’s home front. A brief advance notice will not be enough, and Israel therefore must prepare for an imminent war in case the US goes ahead and bombs in Iran, he wrote.
Fishman pointed to the possible evacuation of the US Embassy in Baghdad as an early indication of US military action. Israel will have to start the countdown to war if and when the embassy is evacuated, he said.
Israeli officials are sensing the explosive potential on all fronts and are therefore conveying aggressive messages to Iran and its proxies, Fishman wrote. Given that he is a highly regarded and well-connected journalist, his assessment suggests that Israel could face a serious military clash soon. If this happens, the dynamic of the Israel-Iran conflict is expected to change dramatically.