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Analysis: Syria War Is Growing Threat to Israel

U.N. officers walk with equipment to observe areas in Syria's Quneitra province, at an observation point on Mount Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Monday, June 22, 2015.

As U.S. officials head to Israel to try to calm fears surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, some analysts say Israel is preparing for what may be greater involvement in the war in neighboring Syria.

But it’s not just the Iran deal making Israel nervous, according to Said Okasha, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo that specializes in Israel. Militant groups like Islamic State or al-Qaida affiliate, al-Nusra, are increasingly a threat, he says.

“The militant groups,” he explained. “This is the main threat coming from Syria.”

Israeli missiles launched into Syria last week, in addition to reports of major military training operations in Israel, raised questions about whether or not it was planning on more direct involvement in the Syria war, according to Jordan-based political analyst Labib Kamhawi. But, he says, Israeli involvement in Syria will largely depend on future militant activities.

“At the end of the day it all depends on where these forces are,” Kamhawi added. “How far they are from the border with Israel, and how strong they are.”

Israel is also preparing for what they anticipate will be a greater threat coming from the Syrian government and allied Hezbollah fighters as Iran sheds economic sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, according to Kamel Abdullah, also a researcher at Al-Ahram Center.

“Israel considers the Iran deal as an enhancement of Iranian power to confront Israel,” he said.

Some analysts say Israel’s fear is unfounded, because they say Iran will use released funds to rebuild its economy, not entrench itself deeper into the war in Syria.

In Syria, Iran supports Israel’s long-time rivals: the army of President Bashar al-Assad, and allied Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. However, all of these rivals have maintained long-term relative peace with Israel, albeit one fraught with tensions and occasionally violence.

And given the complexity and gruesome nature of the war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unlikely to engage unless the country is in imminent danger, according to Israel researcher, Okasha.

“This is the last card they have,” he said. “Israel will not go to the war, except if Israel is exposed to a very high threat.”