The timing is no coincidence, I’m sure, but Trump tearing up the nuclear deal (probably) isn’t the proximate cause. Last month Israel announced that it had shot down an Iranian drone in February that was launched from Syria. On April 9, the T-4 airbase near Homs in Syria was destroyed in an attack blamed on Israel, allegedly to take out air defense systems that threatened IAF patrols over Syria and Lebanon. Then, 10 days ago, a mysterious missile attack attributed to Israel destroyed a munitions site in Syria said to have been operated by Iran, killing 16 people. Yesterday Israel’s energy minister warned Assad that if Iran continued to threaten Israel from his home base, Israel would “eliminate” him.
Literally as I’m writing this, news is breaking that Israel has hit Syria again, this time with a strike on a military base near Damascus. In this case the strike may have been preemptive: Reports have been swirling all afternoon that Iran is about to act.
[Israel’s] military instructed local governments on Tuesday to open bomb shelters to residents of the Golan Heights following the identification of “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria.”
The army also said it raised preparedness of “troops for an attack” and deployed air defenses in the north of the country…
On Sunday, it became known that the IDF had uncovered involvement by Hezbollah commanders, under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a planned attack on IDF military positions using precision-guided missiles or armed drones launched from a base in Syria…
It is thought that Israel’s electronic systems may also be targeted. That threat was identified by the IDF Home Front Command, which recently instructed civilians to have on hand portable radios with spare batteries, bottled water and electrical chargers.
It’s not just Israel that suspects something’s up:
CNN’s @barbarastarrcnn reports that Pentagon officials say they are seeing signs that Iran is preparing to strike Israel, perhaps from Syria.
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) May 8, 2018
Israel’s been expecting a reprisal attack from Iran because of the strike on the T-4 base last month. But it may be that Iran held off, fearing that hitting back before Trump formally announced his decision on the nuclear deal would either convince him to tear it up or, more likely, would be cited by the White House as a pretext for tearing it up when they had already secretly resolved to do so. Now that Trump has pulled the plug on the agreement, Tehran is free to respond to Israel’s bombings. Or possibly more than free: With Trump having just dealt them a blow by reinstating sanctions, the mullahs will want to flex some muscle and take a defiant swing at a national enemy and U.S. ally. That’ll encourage national unity at a perilous moment, with the economic fallout from Trump’s move unpredictable.
Israel’s chief of staff was supposed to attend a security conference today but has canceled due to the likelihood of an attack and is meeting with the country’s defense minister this evening. Stand by for updates.
In the past two weeks Iran has increased military cargo flights to Syria, stocked with additional weapons and supplies like small arms, ammunition and surface-to-air missiles that two U.S. officials believe are meant both to shore up Iranian ground forces and to strike at Israel. For years the U.S. has tracked arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah fighters in Syria supporting the Assad regime, but recently Iran has been supplying Hezbollah with more material and logistical support…
“The Iranian forces … or the proxy forces have tried to get down closer to the Israeli border, I mean very close to it, and you’ve seen Israel take action over that,” Mattis said.