Why Syria and Israel have exchanged attacks during Israel’s war with Gaza

Why Syria and Israel have exchanged attacks during Israel’s war with Gaza

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Syria and Israel exchanged shelling on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said, after a number of mortars were launched toward northern Israel from Syria, falling in an open area. Israel responded with artillery strikes.

After Hamas’s incursion on Saturday, Israel and Hezbollah, an ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war, exchanged fire near Lebanon’s border, fueling fears of escalation. The U.S. said it sent an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean Sea specifically as a deterrent to warn Israel’s enemies about broadening the scope of the war.

But mortar attacks from Syria are widely viewed as symbolic; they rarely incur damage. Syria and Israel have been in conflict for more than half a century, and these routine attacks are a continuation of that conflict, rather than an escalation.

Attacks from Syria typically follow flare-ups and unrest inside Israel and mostly fall in open fields. After Israeli police raids on one of Islam’s holiest sites in April, for example, the IDF said six rockets were fired from Syria, three crossing into Israeli territory.

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Syria considers Israel an enemy, and the countries have been in a state of war since Israel was established 1948. Assad this year alleged that Israeli strikes are launched under the pretext of Iranian presence, but target the Syrian army and will continue as long as the two are enemies.

Israel rarely offers details on specific operations, but has confirmed striking Iranian positions in the past, as well as Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Iran has a heavy military presence in various parts of the country. Syria, a close military and political ally of Iran’s, has become increasingly dependent on Iranian imports, credit lines and military support.

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Iran and Israel have been enemies since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, when leaders quickly denounced Israel as an enemy state and imperialist power in the region. Tensions rose between the two as Iran’s nuclear capabilities grew, which Israel regards as an existential threat.

Iran has taken advantage of the disarray in Syria since its civil war broke out in 2011, building up its military presence and capacity, prompting Israel to strike at Iranian positions. Syria is a strategic lifeline for Iran: It provides a land corridor from Iraq east of Syria to Lebanon in its southwest. Attacks on U.S. troops — the latest in March — have been blamed by Biden administration officials on militias trained and armed by Tehran.

Hezbollah, for its part, has served as a bulwark for Assad, helping the Syrian leader prevail over rebel forces since at least 2013.

Iran’s elite forces, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has a network of proxies across various parts of Syria. Iranian proxies set their sights on recruiting Syrians, providing a more attractive alternative to young men who would have usually joined or been drafted to the army, which is famously underfunded, known to be rife with crime, and whose members are often employed as war fodder.

The U.S. has also launched strikes on what it identified as Iranian positions in Syria, under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. After the attack in March, which killed a U.S. contractor, Washington launched precision strikes on “facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the time.

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Strikes that Syria has attributed to Israel have also struck the Damascus airport, putting it out of service. The Israeli army has before also acknowledged targeting observation posts, intelligence-collection systems, antiaircraft artillery facilities and a command-and-control center belonging to the Syrian military.

Axios, quoting two sources, reported that the United Arab Emirates had warned Assad not to get entangled in the Hamas-Israel war or allow attacks from Syrian soil. The UAE, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, was one of the first Arab nations to resume relations with Assad after his brutal campaign against civilians during Syria’s 12-year war.

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