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Simmering Military Conflict Between Israel And Iran Heats Up

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A simmering military conflict between Israel and Iran got a lot more heated overnight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

GREENE: Sirens there as Iranian forces in Syria fired about 20 rockets into the Golan Heights, targeting the Israeli military. Israel responded with what's described as its largest-ever attack on Iranian military targets in Syria. Now, let's learn all we can hear from Jane Ferguson. She's a special correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour" in Jerusalem. Good morning, Jane.

JANE FERGUSON: Good morning.

GREENE: So what was the scene like in the Golan Heights last night?

FERGUSON: Those sirens went off just shortly after midnight. Now, of course, people there were waiting. We heard the night that the announcement was made that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Iran deal that the Israelis had said that they were putting - basically raising the level of threat, raising the level of alarm there. So as you've said, the Israelis are blaming the Iranian Quds Force for firing 20 rockets towards Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. They say that the Iron Dome system intercepted four of those, and the others fell short of their targets, targets being the Israeli security forces up there.

This morning, things appear to have calmed. We know that the Israeli Defense Forces chief has gone up there to inspect the troops. There's certainly a higher presence of IDF there. However, we're hearing that it is fairly calm, cautiously calm there. Schools are reopening. It's a very popular area for Israelis as well as foreign tourists. And, of course, we're getting into the tourist season now. So there are hotels, restaurants, all still continue to be open and operating. So at the minute, people are cautiously optimistic that, you know, although this has been a very dangerous escalation, it appears to be over for now.

GREENE: Well, can you tell us more about this escalation in violence? I mean, this is just - it's - it seems like the latest event in what's been escalating for a couple of weeks now.

FERGUSON: It has been escalating for months actually across the border in Syria under the guise of the very complex and bloody civil war. We've seen Iran basically futilely ramp up its presence in Syria to aid President Assad and his forces there. Part of that has been moving in their own military advisers, their own military infrastructure into Syria and basically building up their own presence on Syrian military bases. That is something that is unacceptable to the Israelis just across the border to have an Iranian military presence as well as Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah.

So the Israelis have actually been conducting airstrikes in Syria for some time now. Those airstrikes have been increasing in frequency, and they've become more deadly, killing Iranian military commanders or military members inside Syria. So we have, for some time, been expecting some sort of Iranian response to that. And that appears to be what we've seen last night.

GREENE: Jane, clarify something for me if you can. You brought up the president's - President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. How does that fit into the picture here?

FERGUSON: Well, these strikes, if they did come from the Iranian Quds Force, won't have been caused by the announcement that America is pulling out of the deal simply because, as I said, these are more of a retaliation most likely for Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. However, the timing is significant. We've been waiting for any potential Iranian response, and it hasn't come. And many will put that down to the fact that they have been waiting to see what the future of the Iran deal is. The Iranians have had a lot to lose if they were to strike Israel and to be seen as the aggressors here while there was any hope of salvaging the Iran deal.

GREENE: All right. Jane Ferguson is a special correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour" reporting from Jerusalem this morning. Jane, thanks.

FERGUSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.