Amid ongoing tensions in the Middle East over Iran’s role in Syria, an Israeli Defense Forces senior general assumed that the chances of war breaking out on the northern border in 2018 are greater than ever.

In an interview with Army Radio, the head of IDF operations Major General Nitzan Alon said that the victories of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran and Hezbollah, increased the chances of a new war in the Golan Heights.

“This year has the potential for escalation, and not necessarily because either side wants to initiate it, but because of a gradual deterioration. This has led us to raise the level of preparedness,” Alon told Army Radio.

He also added that Israel feared that Iran could become further entrenched in Syria with its presence on Israel’s borders increasing in strength.

“In the northern arena, there is a change coming due to the strategic developments in Syrian internal fighting. The Iranians and Hezbollah, who are backing [Assad], are being freed up to start building their power,” Alon said.

According to Alon, Israel has been concerned with sophisticated weaponry smuggling and precision missile factory building in Lebanon for Hezbollah. Despite the fact that Tel Aviv hardly ever comments on foreign reports of its military activity, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has admitted to conducting thousands of missions, including about 100 airstrikes in Syria, to curb Hezbollah and prevent it from gaining weapons or technologies from Iran.

“War with Hezbollah could bring in other actors who we’d need to fight,” he said. “Iran won’t hold itself back in Gaza. It wants to pay for its interests on the northern border in Palestinian blood.”

While Tel Aviv has repeatedly accused Tehran of military presence in Syria, Iran has strongly denied the claims, emphasizing that it has no military bases in the country, albeit admitted to sending military advisors to help Damascus fight terrorists.

Iran, for its part, issued a disclaimer to Israel, warning it would respond if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed through on his threat to “act not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.”

“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee,” said Mohsen Rezaie, Iran’s expediency council secretary, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

This comes after the incident with an alleged Iranian drone launched from Syrian territory, which was intercepted by an Israeli attack helicopter after it had crossed the disputed area of the Golan Heights on February 10. Following the interception, the Israeli Air Force launched strikes at what it described as Iranian targets in Syria. The Israeli moves prompted retaliatory fire from the Syrian air defense systems, which downed an F-16 fighter jet, prompting the Tel Aviv to launch another wave of attacks to strike “additional Iranian targets” in Syria.

Tehran has slammed Tel Aviv’s claims that an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle had invaded the country’s airspace from Syria as “ridiculous,” highlighting that “Iran only provided military advice to Syria.”

Netanyahu, in turn, has warned that Israel would continue responding to every aggressive action against the country. Russia, a guarantor of the Syrian ceasefire regime alongside Iran and Turkey, has condemned Israel’s attacks on Syria, emphasizing the danger of escalating tensions around and within the Syrian de-escalation zones.

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