This has been true for quite some time now, as Israel and Iran have been in something of a Cold War—a term that, despite how Western media portrays it, implies bloody conflict, as both our war in Vietnam and the Soviets’ in Afghanistan prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. Israel has been fighting with Iranian proxies like Hezbollah for as long as Hezbollah has been around, but what changed is that Israel upped the aggression the instant that the United States backed out of the Iran deal on Tuesday, launching air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria’s capital, Damascus.
This new war escalated even more yesterday, and continued into this morning.
Israel's military alleged that Iranian forces in the Syrian Golan Heights fired shells at Israeli military targets on the other side of the border, and that the IDF retaliated, but did not provide any further details. As of this writing, no outlet has been able to independently confirm the Israeli military's assertion that Iran attacked them, but there is no dispute that Iran has been building up its forces in Syria over the past half-decade.
The shadow war that Israel and Iran were fighting in Syria has now broken out into the open. Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said their air force had destroyed “nearly all” Iranian military infrastructure in Syria. Lieberman spoke at a conference in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, and issued a stern warning to Iran: “If there is rain on our side, there will be a flood on their side. I hope we have finished with this round and that everybody understood.”
The problem is that this is a misreading of history. War begets war. Not to engage in both-sidesism, but it's true here: Israel and Iran have both intentionally escalated tensions, and that's why we find ourselves at this perilous moment. The Iranian Military Guard is its most elite unit, which also acts as something of its own state within Iran, and it has been spreading itself out across Syria. These Israeli strikes seemed designed to roll back that progress made over the course of the Syrian civil war, but it's not like Israel just decided to step in to this conflict yesterday. They have been trying to seize control in this war-torn country as well, as the Intercept reported:
Israel is expanding its influence and control deeper into opposition-held southern Syria, according to multiple sources in the area. After failed attempts to ensure its interests were safeguarded by the major players in the war next door, Israel is pushing to implement the second phase of its “safe-zone” project — an attempt to expand a buffer ranging out from the occupied Golan Heights deeper into the southern Syrian provinces of Quneitra and Daraa. The safe zone expansion marks a move toward deeper Israeli involvement in Syria's civil war.
The Intercept learned the outlines of the safe-zone expansion plan through a monthslong investigation relying on information from a variety of sources, including Syrian opposition activists on the ground in the south, Syrian opposition figures based in Jordan, Syrian government sources, and an Israeli-American NGO directly involved in the safe-zone project.
The safe zone appears intended to keep the Syrian army and its Iranian and Lebanese allies as far away from Israel's border as possible, as well as solidify Israel's control over the occupied Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights are a disputed area of territory, and in order to fully explain what's going on, we need to take a quick history lesson. First off, here is a map of the Golan Heights, a largely Syrian territory mostly occupied by Israel.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Israel was founded in 1948, and immediately found itself at war with Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. There were largely two primary motivations behind this war. One was essentially a response to a breakdown in negotiations at the United Nations and the subsequent establishment of a Jewish state, but not a Palestinian one. The other was ideological, as one of the founders of al-Qaeda, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, told Sir Alec Kirkbride, the British ambassador to Amman that “it does not matter how many [Jews] there are. We will sweep them into the sea.”
In 1967, Israel and Syria fought the Six-Day War, which resulted in Israel capturing most of the Golan Heights. The ceasefire created a “purple line” on the border, which did not award the land to Israel, yet established a border between Syria and Israel in Syria. Six years later, Syria would invade during the Yom Kippur War, and both Israel and Syria agreed to pull their forces back to the purple line in 1974. The years since have been characterized by sporadic rocket fire and clashes in the region, as Israel has fought to keep territory they legally did not obtain and cannot presently occupy. The flashpoint for all politics in the Middle East is that Palestinians quite literally are second-class citizens in Israel. If the powers that be wanted to resolve this conflict, they would, but they don't, and that's where the United States comes in.
We have allowed Israel to warp our domestic politics, to the point where we say we are doing them a favor while our actions benefit Saudi Arabia the most (more on that in a second). Israel is a touchy subject for Jews like me, as the history of my people is not too dissimilar from what the Palestinians are going through right now. Pretty much every world power throughout history has tried to extinguish us, and yet here we still stand—albeit in far smaller numbers when compared to religions like Christianity or Islam. The basic concept of an ethnostate in general is a bit odious to me, but I completely understand Jews' desire to have a home to call our own after all these years. The problem is that Israel can essentially be explained by one line from The Dark Knight: you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents legitimate grievances for every shade of politics. Israel has staged the longest military occupation in modern history, operating as a de facto apartheid state, while bad actors like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have taken advantage of the position Israel put itself in, and exploited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for their own gains while threatening a population of 8.5 million packed into a space the size of New Jersey. Israel has no doubt acted as something of a colonizing force in the middle east as the U.S.'s proxy, but they fought so many ideologically-motivated foes during their inception, that a certain amount of legitimate paranoia is now baked into the Jewish project.
What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is immoral, but let's not kid ourselves here: Iran is not waging war through all these proxies to free the Palestinians. If anything, their subjugation helps Iran, as it creates endless amounts of cover to launch various operations against Israel. The war between Iran and Israel is about regional supremacy, and power is the only consideration at stake here. In many ways, Iran and Israel are very similar: youthful populations who are far more progressive and tolerant than their hardline right-wing leaders who maintain an iron grip on politics within their borders. And this is where Saudi Arabia comes in.
Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran are the three hegemons in the Middle East. Turkey has one foot in both the Middle East and Europe, so we'll leave them out as a unique case right now. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war in Yemen, and the United States is committing war crimes against the Yemeni people in the name of Saudi Arabia's anti-Iranian agenda. We violated the Iran deal, betraying our European allies in order to provide cover for Benjamin Netanyahu to conduct military operations in the wake of his own police force recommending he be indicted. America has warped its own foreign policy to serve two allies who are fighting against our interests. War in Syria is bad for the United States for a myriad of reasons, the most simplistic being that it will increase the price of oil, as it has risen from a little over $40 a barrel to $70 per barrel in the last year as tensions have risen around one of the world's largest oil transportation and production areas.
This escalation in Syria will not end well, and will likely spark further conflict that could devolve into a full-on conflagration between Israel and Iran, or Saudi Arabia and Iran, or the United States and Iran, or the United States and Russia, etc. With so many different hegemons operating in a war-torn country, a catastrophe is almost certain to emerge. War is hell, and we should do whatever we should to avoid it, instead of repeating the same mistakes of the Iraq War with many of the same players.
Two transparently corrupt world leaders who are blatantly unfit for office are slow-walking us into a large war with Iran. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are doing everything in their power to prove that maxim true.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.