The ski slopes on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights open for a brief period every winter. On January 20, an Israeli enjoying an afternoon ski was shocked to see a rocket launched by an Iron Dome air defense battery. It was one of two that streaked across the sky aimed at stopping an Iranian surface-to-surface missile fired from Syria at Israel. The recent flare-up in Israeli-Iranian tensions in Syria comes amid the planned U.S. withdrawal and the winding down of the war on ISIS. It threatens to spark a new conflict. On January 23, Russia warned Israel again about airstrikes in Syria. Yet Jerusalem insists, with Washington’s backing, that it can reduce Iran’s presence in Syria as well as degrade Iran’s weapons transfers to Hezbollah.
The rare daylight airstrikes in Syria on January 20, the Iranian retaliation, and the second round of airstrikes that took place overnight the next day were some of the most serious and public clashes between Israeli and Iranian forces in Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War. They were also predictable. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in December 2017 that Jerusalem would not permit Tehran to ” entrench” itself in Syria and benefit from the Syrian conflict by setting up infrastructure and bases. Israel has been increasingly warning that Iran must “get out” of Syria quickly. In February 2018 Israel struck Iranian targets after a drone entered Israeli airspace and in May 2018 Israel launched widespread airstrikes in response to a rocket salvo from Syria fired by Iran. Some of the strikes in the past year have reached deep into Syria, on the road to Palmyra, near Homs and in Latakia province.