Iran’s Intensifying War with Israel

    James Phillips

    Security, Middle East

    An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

    The Trump administration should publicly warn Russia and Iran that the United States will respond forcefully to future threats in Syria.

    The February 10 military clash between Iran and Israel ushered in a new phase of the Syrian war. Iran for the first time challenged Israel directly instead of attacking indirectly through surrogates, such as Hezbollah.

    The Syrian civil war—the world’s bloodiest conflict in recent decades—has evolved into a proxy war that could easily escalate into a much broader regional war. Iran’s provocative violation of Israeli airspace with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) set off a chain reaction that is accelerating this transformation. The mission of the Iranian UAV—a Shahed 171, which Tehran apparently reverse engineered from a downed U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crashed in Iranian territory in 2011—remains unclear. Launched by Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the Tiyas air base in central Syria, the UAV crossed into Israel over the Jordanian border at an unusually low altitude, perhaps to avoid detection.

    Although Hezbollah and Hamas have deployed Iranian-made UAVs over Israel in the past, this was the first known attempt by Iran to penetrate Israeli airspace.

    The UAV was intercepted and destroyed by an Israeli Apache helicopter, and Israel responded with an airstrike on the Iranian command-and-control trailer in Syria that remotely controlled the UAV.

    An Israeli F-16 fighter involved in that operation was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles and crashed inside Israel, injuring the pilot. It was the first Israeli fighter plane lost in combat since the 1982 war in Lebanon.

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