ANNA AHRONHEIM JANUARY 30, 2019 13:40
The top US intelligence chief warned that Israel’s ongoing strikes against Iranian targets in Syria increase the threat of regional war.
“We assess that Iran seeks to avoid a major armed conflict with Israel,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday. “However, Israeli strikes that result in Iranian casualties increase the likelihood of Iranian conventional retaliation against Israel.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s presence in Syria and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from the Islamic republic to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.
“Iran’s efforts to consolidate its influence in Syria and arm Hezbollah have prompted Israeli air strikes as recently as January 2019 against Iranian positions within Syria, and underscore our growing concern about the long-term trajectory of Iranian influence in the region and the risk that conflict will escalate,” Coats said.
His assessment echoes concerns raised by Israeli officials that Iran would likely increase its response to IAF strikes in Syria.
Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin warned that Tehran would likely “intensify its responses” to Israeli strikes against its forces in Syria.
“I believe Iran will retaliate with greater force in Israel’s North,” the president said, adding that: “It appeared as though Iran would be restrained by our understandings with Russia and its defeats on the northern front – but in recent months, the trend is changing.”
Israel rarely comments on alleged IAF operations on the northern front, but former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot said that Israel fired 2,000 missiles against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in 2018 alone.