Iran and Israel are on a collision course over Tehran’s expanding footprint in Syria, raising the odds of a direct clash between the region’s two military heavyweights that could quickly draw in other combatants.
With Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Iran’s most potent military ally, emboldened by their success in upholding Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israel is growing more and more wary of being attacked by missiles not just from southern Lebanon but also from inside Syria.
Israel has been sporadically bombing Hezbollah positions in Syria for the past three years. But the situation reached new heights this month when what Israel said was an Iranian armed stealth drone was intercepted and downed over Israel and an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was in turn shot down by anti-aircraft fire from inside Syria during a retaliatory airstrike.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traded belligerent taunts at a major security conference in Munich this week, with the hard-line Mr. Netanyahu brandishing a piece of the downed drone and warning that Tehran “should not test Israel’s resolve.”
“Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.”
Mr. Zarif mocked the tough words and noted the Israeli leader’s political problems at home. Calling Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation a “cartoonish circus,” the Iranian minister said the downing of the Israeli fighter jet had crumbled Israel’s “invincibility.”