JERUSALEM - A series of airstrikes in eastern Syria this week, allegedly by Israel, killed at least 57 people, most of them fighters from Iranian-backed militias, according to international monitoring groups. The targets were reportedly Iranian weapons storehouses and fighters.
Analysts say that while Israeli strikes on Syria are common, the large number of people killed and the timing, just days before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office, could spark tensions between Israel and Iran, and the United States and Iran.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the airstrikes, which analysts saw as a major operation against Iran's continued efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Syrian reports said at least 15 sites were targeted.
Retired Brigadier General Assaf Orion, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, said, "This strike, as much as it was conducted by Israel, which is the probable explanation, is in the context of Iran and Israel's long campaign in Syria and that's, I would say in a wider scale, Iran's proxy warfare across the Middle East, because what we are seeing is the Iranian art of war is based on fighting on other people's lands by other people's hands."
He said what he found unique about these airstrikes were the large scope, and the location, 500 kilometers from Israel, near the border between Iraq and Syria.
Use of proxy militias
Orion said Iran is using proxy militias to taunt Israel.
"What Iran is doing in Syria is actually putting a military capability on Israel's border, allowing it to attack, harass, distract, divert Israel and deter it, if they could," he said.
Biden has said he wants the U.S. to return to the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.
Israel worries that the deal will give Iran a legal way to acquire a nuclear bomb. But Iran has recently begun enriching uranium to 20 percent, a step on the way to crossing the nuclear threshold.
Israel Television security correspondent Ro'I Sharon said the timing of the airstrikes plays an important role. He said Israel is using the last days of the Trump administration to attack Iran, because Iran won't want to respond now.
But some Israeli analysts say Israel is playing a dangerous game, and that if pushed hard enough, Iran will strike back.