Israeli Airstrike Kills 19 in Eastern Syria, Mostly Pakistani Militia Members

Third Israeli strike on Syria in a little over a week

Continuing a tactic of anticipating a US-Iran War, Israel seems to keep trying to provoke the conflict, with a Thursday morning strike in eastern Syria killing at least 19 Shi’ite militia members, declared “pro-Iranian fighters” by the Israeli press.

As with the other strikes, pro-Iranian doesn’t actually mean Iranian, as the militia members killed were confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to be almost entirely Pakistanis. Neither the Syrian nor Israeli government has commented on the matter yet.

This is the third Israeli attack against Shi’ites in Syria in just over a week. Iran did comment on the first one, which killed mostly Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ites, and threatened retaliation over it. They did not specify when or how they would retaliate.

Underpinning this is Israel’s public desire to have a war involving the US before Trump leaves office. Iran, however, has been keen to avoid direct military conflict with the US, and has instructed its allies to avoid any hits on US targets, and presumptively Israeli targets, until the inauguration.

What this means is something of a tug of war, where Iran is trying to keep the situation calm for the next couple of months, and Israel tries to force an escalation by picking up the peace of attacks in Syria, something they’ve been doing for years.

The big limiter on Israeli strikes in Syria isn’t Iran in the first place, it’s Russia. The Russians keep Israel out of the areas near their bases, and have at times talked them down when they feel like they risk destabilizing Syria with their attacks.

No one really benefits from such a conflict erupting, so it comes down to if Israel can drag the world into another conflagration, or if  everyone keeps things relatively calm for the next two months.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.