The Israeli military reports that they hit about 70 Syria-based Iranian targets on Wednesday. All of the targets were core installations for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the country’s Armed Forces whose intent is to protect the country’s Islamic Republic System. It’s the latest in a series of attacks between the two countries since President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, a move that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported.
The two countries didn’t always have such animosity for each other. The Islamic Revolution in 1979, organized by Ayatollah Khomeini, resulted in leftist and Islamic Iranians overthrowing the government headed by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. Twenty-five hundred years of Persian monarchy was replaced by an Islamic republic, and Khomeini became the first Supreme Leader of Iran. This is when Israel broke its ties with the country.
Because it is an Islamic republic, Iranian policy includes a deep-seated intent to remove the Jewish state. It has supported radical groups that oppose Israel for many years and is among the most powerful supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Thousands of Shiite militia fighters owe their training to Iran. The New York Times reports that with no real current threat to al-Assad, Iran is using its presence in Syria to establish itself as a military power in the Middle East. Amir Toumaj, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains.
“Right now, thanks to Russian military intervention, Assad is secured, though pockets of insurgents remain. So the Islamic Republic can afford to lessen investment against insurgents and focus more on Israel. The strategy is to make Syria into a viable front, like southern Lebanon, for both offensive and defense purposes, should another major war break out between Hezbollah and Israel. Iran has also tried to bring in defensive assets to Syria such as Tor air defense system, which Israel has struck to prevent.”
Likewise, Israel has largely remained out of the war in Syria, as described by Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
“It didn’t have a horse in that race, feeling no love for Assad, but fearing the chaos that might follow him. Now, with the victory of the Assad-Iran side, Iran’s main spoils is a long-term military presence in Syria, entrenching it in the country and linking it to Lebanon. This is something Israel will not accept. It now fears the current trend in Syria, with growing Iranian presence, and so it has a strong incentive to stop things now before Iran gets further entrenched.”
In the past, Israel has actively sought to keep Iran from transferring advanced weaponry like long-range missiles and anti-ship and anti-armor weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon by attacking convoys and weapon dumps, according to reports from the BBC. Iran’s efforts to strengthen Shiite presence in Hezbollah and in Iraq are ongoing.
President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, didn’t directly trigger military strikes between Iran and Israel in Syria. Rather the decision has served to bring long-standing animosity between the two countries into the open in the form of military activity.