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Source: Bloomberg

Apr 4, 2023

Story by Amy Teibel

Israel’s shadow war with Iran in Syria escalated on Tuesday, with Syrian state-run media reporting a fourth airstrike in six days.

Two civilians were killed in the attack outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, which also caused material damage, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said. It didn’t specify what was targeted, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the war, said Iranian military positions and Syrian air defenses were attacked. 

Israel had no official comment on the reports from Syria. But the Israeli military said Monday it shot down an unidentified aircraft that had crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria the night before. 

Israeli media including Haaretz reported that Israel suspects Iran was behind the infiltration of a drone — dispatched after two Iranian military advisers were reported killed in an earlier Israeli airstrike. Tehran has not responded to those accusations.

Iran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his country’s war. Israel considers Iran to be its top enemy, due to its nuclear program, ballistic missile operations and support for militant groups across the region. It has carried out hundreds of strikes inside Syria against arms shipments and other targets it says are linked to Tehran and its allies. Strikes attributed to Israel have also targeted Syrian air defenses. 

Iran’s accelerating nuclear program has deepened the tensions between the two countries. Israel suspects Tehran aims to build bombs — a charge Iran denies — and has vowed to prevent it from doing so, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserting Israel’s right to defend itself militarily if necessary. 

Israel’s northern border is heating up at a time when former and current Israeli defense personnel are warning that domestic political turmoil over proposed legislation to curtail the powers of the judiciary could hurt the military’s preparedness. 

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting against the plan weekly, and opposition has trickled down into the military, where thousands of reservists, including pilots, have declared they won’t report for training. Some have already carried out the threat. 

Additionally, Israel’s defense minister — ordinarily the country’s second-most-powerful figure — finds himself in the position of having been fired, but not formally. Netanyahu sacked Yoav Gallant for urging a halt to the contentious legislation, and warning that the political strife could affect the military’s operational capacity. 

But the prime minister never sent a formal, written notice of dismissal as required, and on Monday, people close to Netanyahu said that due to the present security situation, a decision has been put off. 

The sparring with Iran is not the only front that Israel is engaged on at this volatile time. Attacks on Israelis, deadly Israeli arrest raids inside the West Bank, and settler assaults on Palestinian civilians have all escalated. 

Two soldiers were wounded in an attack near an army base on Tuesday, and a day earlier, the military said Palestinian gunmen had opened fire in an area of northern Israel usually outside the the cycle of violence. 

The Israeli military also reported intercepting a drone from Gaza on Monday before it entered Israeli airspace. 

--With assistance from Kateryna Kadabashy and Patrick Sykes.

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