Iran’s options in southern Syria

Read the full article on The American Interest.

From the Arab uprisings to the birth of the Islamic State, and from the eruption of four civil wars to the Gulf Crisis, the Middle East has never been more turbulent in its modern history. That the region has escaped a large-scale conventional war during such a volatile period in which U.S. diplomacy has been virtually absent is nothing short of a miracle.

But this streak of good fortune may not last long. With the Islamic State militarily defeated since last year, the Syrian civil war has transitioned into a battleground for regional powers, raising the risk of inter-state war. Southern Syria is where things are most combustible. Arch-rivals Israel and Iran operate in close proximity in that part of the country and are locked in a military crisis that could easily escalate.

Israel wants Iran far away from its northeast corner and ultimately out of all of Syria. Iran, on the other hand, has no interest in leaving, having spent considerable blood and treasure to save the Assad regime and pursue a set of strategic interests in Syria and across the region.

To compel Tehran to cooperate, Israel has resorted to military force, bombing Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria repeatedly. But Iran has not budged, licking its wounds after every hit, and recently even shooting back at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, to which Israel retaliated by launching the most extensive strike on Syria since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.