While both Iran and the United States have engaged in a war of words since the fall of the Shah, their enmity has never spilled over into open conflict. But now the two sides are increasingly moving in that direction as their forces are getting within close proximity to one another in Syria.
Tensions between Iran and the United States over Syria are at the highest they have been since the country’s civil war started in 2011.
While the two countries have repeatedly voiced indignation about the other’s presence in Syria, they have not reached the point of a military confrontation so far.
While the US has targeted fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad who have threatened its Kurdish allies and air bases, it has not directly attacked Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers, who command both pro-Assad militias and are embedded with Syrian military units.
Similarly, while Iran has warned the US against intervening in Syria, it has not instructed the groups under its sway to target the US.
In recent months, however, questions arose as to whether the US will continue its policy of non-confrontation with Iran in Syria.
Last month, US President Donald Trump appointed John Bolton, a trenchant critic of Iran, as his new national security adviser.
A George W Bush-era relic, best known as an advocate of the Iraq war, Bolton has reportedly lobbied Trump for a more aggressive posture on Iran.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, also fueled concern about escalation when she said that preventing Iran’s entrenchment in Syria was one of the Trump administration’s top priorities.
Iran’s main regional rival, Israel, is said to have informed US intelligence officials before targeting Iranian positions in Syria, a sign of increasing cooperation between the two, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Militias backed by Iran for their part have vowed to target the US presence in Syria.
“What we are currently seeing is the most serious attempt by hawkish and conservative advisers to get the US directly involved in the Syrian war, an attempt that echoes Israeli concerns about US withdrawal plans from Syria,” said Joe Macaron of the Arab Center Washington, DC, further explaining that the hawkish position is not universally accepted.
“Trump himself and the Pentagon are resisting this temptation, Israel will most probably continue in the foreseeable future to fight its own battles against Iran.”
Right now the Iranians believe that the U.S. position in Syria is untenable and while they’ve set their hooks deep in the Syrian regime, they know that open conflict with the U.S. is counterproductive to their long-term goals. But anything can happen.
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Photo Syrian Army