Conflict with Iran is here

In the real world, very much like a movie or a good play, the gun we see in the first act will go off in the final act. In this vein, Iran's presence on Israel's northern border – in the form of its soldiers and aircraft on Syrian soil, along with the thousands of Shiite volunteers it has deployed on the Syrian Golan Heights – could, as we have just witnessed, be unleashed against Israel.

Those who cautioned that Israel's actions – namely its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Syrian territory – were pushing the region to the brink of an unnecessary conflict with Iran and Hezbollah, were wrong. The conflict is already here, and the initiator is in fact Iran.

This still isn't all-out war, which nobody wants, rather another step, significant and severe, on the chess board of Israel's battle with Iran.

The crux of this battle is the question of Iran's presence in Syria in the aftermath of the civil war there, and Tehran's efforts to build precision-missile factories in Lebanon. Israel has said this is a red line, and will not allow it.

Israel's immediate and aggressive response to Iran's belligerence on Saturday signals its determination not to repeat past mistakes of issuing hollow threats. To be sure, Iran and Hezbollah will only be careful not to cross Israel's red lines if they believe it is resolved to defending them.

Will Saturday's incident lead to war? Not necessarily. Throughout the seven years of civil war in Syria, Israel capably managed its conflict with Iran on a low flame. A month does not go by without a report of another attack, attributed to Israel's air force, against Iranian, Hezbollah, or regime targets in Syria. This is not the first time anti-aircraft missiles were fired by Syria.

Now is the time to test the effectiveness of these red lines and see whether Iran wants to drag the region into a war; despite the fact that at least outwardly Tehran and certainly Russia are not interested in such a development.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

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