An Israeli missile that landed in a southern Lebanese town near the Syrian border on Feb. 10, 2018. Photo: Ali Dia / AFP / Getty Images

Israel’s strike on Syrian targets earlier this month, in response to an Iranian drone that launched from Syria and entered Israeli airspace, marked the most serious clash to date between Israel and Iran and its local proxies. It was also the latest example of Russia's interjection into the conflict. Indeed, discussion of further military action by Israel only ended after a call between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Why it matters: As hostilities intensify in Syria, Russia is poised to expand its role in the region, portraying itself as a neutral broker to further the Kremlin’s   own interests.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry urged “restraint on all sides,” stressing “unconditional respect” for the sovereignty of “Syria and other countries in the region.” It also called “absolutely unacceptable” any danger to Russian military personnel serving in Syria “upon the legitimate Syrian government’s invitation.” Notably, the statement did not acknowledge Israel’s legitimate reasons for resorting to strikes.

Moscow may be well-positioned to restrict, when necessary, the freedom of action of both sides. At the same time, it is doubtful that the Kremlin sees much interest in restraining Iran, Russia's main regional ally. Moscow has long favored the Shia axis in the region and supported Hezbollah. Theirs is a partnership of dictatorships that put differences aside when faced with a common interest — in this case, opposition to the West.

What’s next: Putin will aim to restore Russia's status as a power-broker in the region, to the detriment of the U.S. and its allies.

Anna Borshchevskaya is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Deadly storm Zeta pummels parts of Alabama and Florida

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Former Hurricane Zeta has killed at least one person after a downed power line electrocuted a 55-year-old in Louisiana as the storm's powerful winds and heavy rainfall moved into Alabama overnight.

What's happening: After "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi," Zeta weakened to a tropical storm over central Alabama early on Thursday, per the National Hurricane Center.

Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else in the world has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing," along with the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: As Taiwan's profile rises, so does risk of conflict with China

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