Israel Pushes the Envelope in Syria

March 21 2017

Israel has conducted more than a few airstrikes in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, but the one that took place in the pre-dawn hours on Friday morning was unusual. First, the IDF broke with precedent by taking responsibility for the attack, although it did not release any details. Second, Israeli aircraft struck much deeper into Syria than they have previously done, hitting regime positions near Palmyra. Third, they were met by enemy anti-aircraft missiles, which were then countered by Israeli anti-missile missiles. David Daoud explains:

One possibility is that the target of the Israeli strike was a weapons shipment to Hizballah at the Syrian army’s T-4 airport in western Palmyra. The Syrian military, assisted by Hizballah and the Russians, recently retook the airport from Islamic State, and the Shiite group continues to maintain a large presence there. It is likely that, since the Israelis continue to interdict weapons shipments to Hizballah at the Damascus airport, the group has begun receiving shipments at T-4 thinking it was out of the IAF’s reach. . . .

In another first, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow was summoned into the Russian foreign ministry to clarify his country’s actions. This comes shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a visit to Moscow, where he discussed Israel’s concerns over Hizballah and Iran’s growing power in Syria with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Israel’s intelligence minister commented that Jerusalem had acted without informing the Russians because the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was changing the rules of the game vis-à-vis Israel and allowing Syria to “become a dangerous hub of Hizballah activity,”

Indeed, the Syrian air defenses’ response constitutes a serious development. During past Israeli strikes on Hizballah, the Syrian army has largely stayed out of the fray. The contrast this time is a possible indication that the Assad regime perceives a positive change in its domestic fortunes, particularly after its success against rebel factions in the battle of Aleppo in December 2016.

It is doubtful that Assad was seeking a full-blown confrontation with the Israelis. More likely, he was simply trying to convey this regained confidence to his domestic foes, and also to signal to Israel that the IAF could no longer operate freely against Hizballah in Syrian territory.

Read more at Long War Journal

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war

How Israel Should Approach Syria in the Wake of the U.S. Airstrikes

April 27 2017

Nearly three weeks after a U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, it remains unclear if Washington will start working actively against the Assad regime or simply enforce red lines. Ilan Goldenberg argues that in either case Israel should stick to the strategy it has been pursuing all along—one that will only be helped by greater American involvement:

The good news is that much of the area of southern Syria is now controlled by a group of moderate Sunni forces known as the Southern Front. This group is an alliance of smaller local militias that has been supported by the United States and Jordan with some quiet support from Israel. As a result, southern Syria has become one of the most stable areas in the country, resulting in a default buffer zone that protects both Israel and Jordan. The key for Israel will be to ensure that in any final resolution of the Syrian conflict or change in Trump administration policy, the Southern Front remains in place. . . .

[Another] central objective for Israel will be to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria that could get into the hands of extremists who may launch attacks on Israeli civilians. At the start of the Syria conflict this was the foremost Israeli priority. . . . The priority Israel places on this issue also explains why the Israeli minister of defense, Avigdor Liberman, came out so strongly in support of the military strikes against the Assad regime, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vladimir Putin. In most instances, Israel has tried to avoid antagonizing Russia or getting in the middle of U.S-Russian competition, but on this particular matter it is highly invested in the American position.

Finally, Israel . . . has a broader overarching objective of trying to limit Iranian influence in Syria. . . . Iranian-supported militias and operatives of the Qods Force [Iran’s elite expeditionary troops] are deeply enmeshed inside the Syrian regime at this point, and Israel likely recognizes that. Iran will continue to have influence in Syria and be able to use its allies in Damascus to supply and strengthen Hizballah. All Israel can do is push for American policies that limit Tehran’s influence in Syria to the largest extent possible, while recognizing the reality of the situation on the ground.

Read more at Matzav

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy