Israel Is Stomping On Iran — And It Could Bring One Of The Worst Wars The Middle East Has Ever Seen

Analysis

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said Israeli intelligence had obtained a trove of "secret" documents outlining a clandestine nuclear program in Iran.


On Sunday, Syria got rocked by a missile attack that appeared to ignite a munitions depot hard enough to register as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake and is believed to have killed dozens of Iranians. Experts say the strike was most likely carried out by Israel.

Though Tehran has denied that Iranians died in the strike, a more aggressive posture toward Iran by Israel could bring about a major clash that experts say might lead to the biggest war the Middle East has ever seen.

The perpetrator of Sunday's attack hasn't been confirmed. Israel rarely takes credit for strikes within Syria, though it maintains that it will strike at any Iranian activity there that it deems a threat.

With an estimated 20,000 to 70,000 Shiite Iranian-aligned fighters and tens of thousands of rockets in Syria, that's a lot of activity for Israel to monitor.

Israeli F-16Is and F-15C/Ds over the Dead Sea during the 2015 Blue Flag air combat exerciseIsraeli Air Force

Israel's air force appears to be repeatedly battering Iran and Syria

Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on Iran and Syria at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says Israel is picking up the pace of strikes and moves against Iran — and staring down the barrel of a massive confrontation.

"For some time, it really did look like the Israelis were holding back," Schanzer told Business Insider. "They seemed reticent to engage. They didn't want to expose themselves in the skies over Syria."

But after an air battle in February among Israeli, Syrian, and Iranian forces — in which Israel said it downed an Iranian drone and much of Syria's air defenses but lost an F-16 fighter jet— Israel appears to be going much harder.

Israeli forces "appear to have broken a seal of sorts," Schanzer said, adding that Israel may see a "window" as Syria's air defenses are vulnerable.

Both Iranian and Israeli sources cited in recent news reports have predicted retaliation to the strike on Sunday.

But before any such answer could be made, Israel dropped what it characterized as a massive cache of dirt on Iran.

'A psychological operation'

Netanyahu said at a press conference on Monday that Israeli intelligence had about 100,000 documents, videos, and photographs showing that Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions, and he accused it of cheating on the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Schanzer said: "Spies steal documents all the time, but this was a huge cache. And usually, spy agencies keep it quiet after the intelligence is lifted. Not so with the Israelis — they are broadcasting this, making it as much a psychological operation as a revelation about Iran's nuclear mendacity."

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has signaled the U.S. is revisiting the Iran nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Trump would withdraw from the 2015 deal "if we can't fix it" and assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was "deeply concerned about Iran's dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran's ambition to dominate the Middle East."

"The United States is with Israel in this fight, and we strongly support Israel's sovereign right to defend itself," Pompeo added.

Two Israeli F-15D Eagle aircraft practice air defense maneuvers mission over the Nevada Test and Training Ranges, at Nellis Air Force Base , Nevada, during Exercise Red Flag in 2004.U.S. Air Force/Tsgt Kevin J. Gruenwald

Iran's ability to retaliate against Israel is limited.

Diplomatically, Iran doesn't have much leverage. Though Iran is allied with Russia, Russian air defenses in Syria seem uninterested in protecting Iranian targets from suspected Israeli strikes.

Iran's main leverage over Israel is its influence with Hamas, a Palestinian group active in the already boiling Gaza Strip on Israel's border, and its nearby fighters and rocket stockpiles.

"There are things that Iran can do very quickly to make things miserable for the Israelis," Schanzer said.

With Israel on the sidelines of the civil war in Syria, where over 70 countries have bombed or contributed to bombing efforts, the feud heating up between Jerusalem and Tehran could erupt into a fight that could rock the Middle East.

Read more from Business Insider:

WATCH NEXT:

Seven of the twelve Soldiers participating in the Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Level 2 course at Fort Indiantown Gap practice folding the flag April 25. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Zane Craig)

Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.

Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.

Read More Show Less

For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.

"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.

In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.

"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."

Read More Show Less

Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.

Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.

"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'

Read More Show Less

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.

Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.

Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.

Read More Show Less

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning that it's "absolutely a given" that ISIS will come back if the U.S. doesn't keep up pressure on the group, just one week after President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from northern Syria.

"It's in a situation of disarray right now. Obviously the Kurds are adapting to the Turkish attacks, and we'll have to see if they're able to maintain the fight against ISIS," Mattis said in an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," set to air on Sunday. "It's going to have an impact. The question is how much?"

Read More Show Less