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Analysis

‘More Israeli strikes against Iranian positions likely as Tehran seeks to destabilize region,’ says analyst

Fragments of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile found in Alonei Abba, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from where the remains of a crashed F-16 Israeli warplane were found, at the village of Alonei Abba, Israel February 10, 2018. (Reuters)
JEDDAH: Saturday’s sudden military escalation between Israel and the Assad regime may be a harbinger of what lies ahead as the Syrian fighting winds down and an emboldened Iran establishes a military presence that Israel vows it will never accept, analysts told Arab News.
“We can expect more Israeli strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah positions on Syrian soil in the future as Tehran seeks to further destabilize the region,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.
The escalation also shows that “Iran is at the helm of what remains of Assad’s military, and has supplanted any semblance of Syrian sovereignty,” he said.
“The Assad regime’s military suffered a major blow as a result of Iran’s military incursion. The Israeli airforce counterattack destroyed a significant portion of Assad’s long range SA-5 integrated air defense network outside Damascus.”
Gerald Feierstein, the US Ambassador to Yemen and director for Gulf affairs at the Middle East Institute, said: “Even though both sides are indicating that they don’t seek an escalation, the heightened tensions and the proximity of all of these forces are a clear threat.
“These kind of incidents can spin out of control with unintended consequences. The possibility that Russia and the US could be pulled into a confrontation between Israel, Syria and Iran should make everyone very worried.”
In Washington, the Pentagon said: “We share the concerns of many throughout the region over Iran’s destabilizing activities that threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran’s malign activities.”
Other analysts said they did not expect further escalation for now, but suggested the heavy anti-aircraft fire showed Syria was more emboldened to stop Israel’s strikes.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group said Russia should mediate since “it is the only stakeholder which has strong relations with all sides today.
“This incident signals a new phase … of the war in Syria,” he said.

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