Inevitable tensions, particularly the unrest at the northern border of Israel, may drive some to believe that a new Middle Eastern war is about to erupt. However, we aim to dispel this view with a fact-based analysis of the current situation.
A short timeline of Middle Eastern conflicts
- 1902-1932 – Unification of Saudi Arabia
- 1914-1918 – World War I in the Middle East
- 1919 – Egyptian Revolution
- 1919-1923 – Turkish War of Independence
- 1919-2003 – Iraqi-Kurdish conflict
- 1939-1945 – World War II in the Middle East
- 1948-present – Arab-Israeli war
- 1958 – Lebanon crisis
- 1963 – 8th of March Syrian Revolution
- 1975-1990 – Lebanese Civil War
- 1979 – Iranian Revolution
- 1979-1983 – Islamist revolution in Syria
- 1986 – Damascus bombings
- 1990-1991 – Gulf War
- 2003-2011 – Iraq War
- 2004-2014 – Shia insurgency in Yemen
- 2006-present – Fatah-Hamas conflict
- 2006-present – Iran-Israel proxy war
- 2011-present – Syrian civil war
- 2013-2017 – Iraq War
- 2019- present – Persian Gulf Crisis
Will the current conflicts attract Israel into a new Middle Eastern war?
While commentators display conflicting opinions on the matter, given the ongoing Syrian crisis, a report emphasizes that a full-blown Middle Eastern war is improbable in the current circumstances. Still, you could hardly predict what would happen next in this tension-filled context.
First, there is the escalating proxy war between Israel and Iran. It’s not a full-scale war just yet, and hopefully, it will not degenerate. Still, the animosity between the two countries is well documented. Iran had aided Hezbollah with money and military equipment in Lebanon over the years, including in 2018, when the Shia militant group clashed with the Israeli Defense forces. According to US estimations, Iranian funding amounts to over $700 million annually.
Second, the Syrian civil war seems to have been brought to a stall, with President Bashar al-Assad seizing the reins of power. But armed conflicts at the border still disturb the country. Moreover, the demographic changes in the past 11 years of war suggest the Shiite population has expanded while the country's youth are fleeing.
Knowing the Shiite’s potential to be enlisted by terrorist organizations, there remains a possibility that armed conflicts may escalate at Israel’s northern border. However, the current situation does not indicate a multi-party Middle Eastern war. The cost would be too high for any party involved, especially given the global climate.
Tension-filled relations between Israel and Syria
Although, in the 1990s, multiple Middle Eastern countries have signed a non-aggression pact to facilitate peace between Israel and Palestine, the cultural and economic animosity with Syria has continued to this day. The latter has been assuming a central role in the Arab boycott of Israel. The two countries have been at odds ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, with notable escalations in 1948, 1967 and 1973.
Various stripes of land have been the subject of intense dispute, with Syrians decrying the occupation of the Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. After the 1973 conflict, an official ceasefire agreement was put into place, and both countries have largely respected it. However, the foreign and terrorist intervention led to new rounds of clashes at the border, further intensifying tensions between the two countries.
And when the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the years of accumulated tensions spilt over in an unprecedented and unexpected way. The decade-old revolution, which started as a popular uprising against Assad’s repressive regime, turned the world on its head and attracted the greatest military powers in a local proxy conflict with global undertones. Not only did the US, Iran, Russia and Turkey get involved in this bewildered civil war, but local extremists and sectarians as well, leading to a revival of the Islamic State.
The Iraqi Al-Qaeda became the dreaded ISIS, and unsurprisingly the newborn organization has found numerous applicants in anti-Assad rebels. The global involvement in this seemingly minor, local conflict shows that the web of interlocking interests is far more intricate than a straightforward Us versus Them, Good vs Evil war. You have the Americans fighting the Russians, pro-Assad forces fighting the rebels, allies fighting ISIS, and Turks fighting Kurds. In this context, Israel’s wish to protect its legitimate interests and territories is challenging to say the least.
Are there reasons for hope?
As expertly shown in a survey, the conflict between Israel and Syria is paradoxical when analyzed from the outside. The two countries barely reach 20 million souls combined. A dispute between two nations of this size would typically go unnoticed globally. Of course, that’s not the case here, as their shared animosity is representative of the more significant, ongoing, Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Palestinian problem is at the core of most Western commentaries on the Middle Eastern political and military climate. However, the most pressing threat to Israel's security ever since the country’s establishment in 1948 remains Syria.
Still, Syria alone does not pose a direct threat in the current state of affairs. The country cannot draw Israel into a war of continental proportions. Also, the humanitarian aid provided by Israel at the height of the civil war shows there might be ground for peace at some point.
On the other hand, the complications brought about in the region by Iranian proxies, Russian involvement, extremist ethnic groups, and so on do represent a threat, albeit manageable in the foreseeable future. Israel will continue to benefit from the support of the most significant military force. Consequently, a blunt, head-on confrontation with nuclear power Iran seems highly unlikely. Based on the present landscape, the US-sanctioned system of checks and balances will continue to be in effect for the years to come, preventing a full-scale war in the Middle East.