Early Tuesday morning, Israel reportedly bombed Iran-linked targets in the Syrian port of Latakia for the second time this month. Fires burned there for nearly a day, suggesting that the targets were ammunition stores and explosives. As the Latakia port is close to two important Russian bases, the strikes again raise the question of why Moscow has for several years allowed the IDF to attack its Iranian and Hizballah allies in Syria. Anna Borshchevskaya cautions against drawing the wrong conclusions:
Israeli officials believe Russia can help deter Iranian aggression by limiting the forces Tehran deploys in Syria. . . . This belief originates in Moscow’s Syria intervention in September 2015. Once Russia entered the Syrian theater, Moscow took control of Syrian skies and the Israel Defense Force often had to forewarn, if not seek Russia’s permission, to conduct airstrikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria. Israeli officials interpreted Russia’s willingness to allow such strikes as a sign that Moscow favors Jerusalem’s concerns over Tehran’s interests in Syria.
Israeli officials may be misunderstanding Moscow’s motivations, however. Moscow accepted Israeli strikes not out of sympathy but rather because it has a genuine interest in ensuring that no actor in Syria becomes powerful enough to challenge Russia. The Israeli strikes were simply useful to keep Iranian ambitions in check.
The Israeli leadership has often read too much into this. Moscow’s actions showed repeatedly that Russia had neither the ability nor desire to limit Iranian-backed forces in Syria. . . . Russia’s entire Syria intervention depended on Iran doing the heavy lifting. This is a major component of how Putin kept the Russian intervention limited and inexpensive. [Moreover], Russia-Iran convergence to stymie American influence allowed both to put tactical differences aside.