While the two countries have repeatedly voiced indignation about the other’s presence in Syria, they have not reached the point of a military confrontation so far.
While the US has targeted fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad who have threatened its Kurdish allies and air bases, it has not directly attacked Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers, who command both pro-Assad militias and are embedded with Syrian military units.
A George W Bush-era relic, best known as an advocate of the Iraq war, Bolton has reportedly lobbied Trump for a more aggressive posture on Iran.
Iran’s main regional rival, Israel, is said to have informed US intelligence officials before targeting Iranian positions in Syria, a sign of increasing cooperation between the two, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“What we are currently seeing is the most serious attempt by hawkish and conservative advisers to get the US directly involved in the Syrian war, an attempt that echoes Israeli concerns about US withdrawal plans from Syria,” said Joe Macaron of the Arab Center Washington, DC, further explaining that the hawkish position is not universally accepted.
“Trump himself and the Pentagon are resisting this temptation, Israel will most probably continue in the foreseeable future to fight its own battles against Iran.”
‘Testing the boundaries’
“There’s no appetite on either side to deliberately look for a wider conflict because then your costs outweigh your benefits,” he told Al Jazeera.
“You have to put in so many resources and have the problem of not knowing how far this will go,” Lucas added.
“There’s always the possibility of low-level conflict through people seeing how far they can go but so far that hasn’t escalated into a wider military conflict,” he explained, giving the example of US attacks on Iranian-backed militias when they encroached on a US-controlled airbase near the Jordanian border in May 2017.
While the US and Iran did not want war with each other at this moment in time, it does not mean they aren’t looking for other ways to negate each others’ influence in Syria, Lucas went on to say, explaining that both countries had influence over effective fighting forces; Iran through its militias and the US through the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Waiting out the US
In the seven years since the start of the Syrian Civil War, Iran has established deep roots within the country by commanding militias that count fighters in the tens of thousands.
The US has established influence in the country’s north, where the SDF rule, and in the south along the Jordanian border.
But the US public opinion has turned overwhelmingly against continued military intervention in Middle Eastern countries.