Over the past couple of years, several wars in the Middle East have died down. The U.S. ended most of its Inherent Resolve combat missions against ISIS in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis have observed a delicate ceasefire in Yemen. Primary combat operations of the Syrian Civil War have died down with meditations between Turkey, Russia, and Assad’s government.

With a relative yet uneasy “peace” in the region, low-level conflicts with the potential to become an open war have emerged. Iran and Israel have been waging a shadow conflict across the Middle East and South Caucasus that could have broader U.S. implications as Iranian proxies have targeted American forces in the region on several dozen occasions. Initially, these acts were seen as low-level tit-for-tat operations that could not have gone into an open conflict. Still, due to geopolitical tensions, it is now possible, and the U.S. should be prepared for any scenario.

Iranian ballistic missiles fired at U.S. bases in the Middle East.

The Shadow Conflict Between Israel and Iran

Hostile relations between Israel and Iran have put the region on edge. When the Mullahs took power from the Shah in 1979, they later declared a fatwa and intention to destroy Israel. Realizing they could use their new personal military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to export their theocratic interests, Tehran would strike against Israel and the West in several nations.

In Lebanon, the IRGC formed the militia and terrorist organization Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed militia was responsible for the Marine Barracks and Embassy bombings along with frequent guerrilla tactics against the IDF for several decades.

The IRGC has also armed the Houthis in Yemen and Palestinian factions along with Shiite Iraqi militias that killed hundreds of U.S. forces during the occupation. It should be noted the notorious Quds Force Commander, Qasem Soleimani was an UN-designated global terrorist and was killed for directing these militias.

Israel would strike back against Iran’s proxies which formed in their backyard, by likewise conducting the same in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan’s 2020 victory against Armenia was due to the help of drones purchased from Turkey and Israel. In return for the assistance, Baku has given Tel Aviv access to their airspace to conduct operations against Tehran, putting the Islamic Republic in a panic.

Growing Tensions in Syria

Though the Syrian War is a frozen conflict between rebel and government forces, a new dangerous phase has occurred between international actors. Iranian-backed militias have stepped up attacks against U.S. forces in Eastern Syria—assessing the red line limits. At the same time, Washington has been distracted by tensions in Ukraine and the Korean Peninsula.

The Pentagon had admitted it has not reciprocated to the number of provocations by the militias, which the IRGC could see as a sign of weakness. With Congress convening on a potential troop withdrawal from Syria, the Iranian militias would look to humiliate U.S. forces from the country, akin to how the Taliban waited for the end of combat phases to overrun the Afghan Army.