What the War in Ukraine Means for Iran, Israel, and Syria

According to reports from the Syrian media, the IDF launched missiles at Iranian-linked military sites on Sunday, killing four Syrian airmen. If the information is accurate, the attack constitutes yet another Israeli mission in the “war between the wars,” as Jerusalem calls its yearslong attempt to degrade and destroy the military assets that Tehran and its allies have been building up in war-torn Syria. Israel has so far sought to conduct this campaign without antagonizing Russia, which is fighting alongside Iran to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. The Alma Research and Education Center examines how the war in Ukraine might affect both the Islamic Republic’s efforts and the Jewish state’s plans to counter them:

Russia will not abandon the Syrian [theater], which it considers a strategic arena, leaving it in the hands of the Iranians. . . . It is clear that Russian forces have been transferred from Syria to Ukraine, but the extent of the forces redeployed is not clear to us.

If Russia should become “unsatisfied” with the Israeli campaign-between-the-wars activity in Syria in particular, and with Israeli policy in general (also in the context of the war in Ukraine), its response poses a challenge for Israel. The Russian responses can be conveyed . . . in the passing on of: preliminary intelligence regarding Israeli attack intentions to the Syrians and/or Iranians, after-the-fact publicity regarding the details of an Israeli attack, the transfer of advanced conventional weapons to the Syrians (S-300 air-defense batteries for example), and “turning a blind eye” when conventional Russian advanced weapons are transferred from Syria to elements of the radical Shiite axis led by Iran.

Until now, the IDF has maintained contacts with Russian commanders in Syria to ensure that none of its airstrikes harm Russian troops or materiel. What would happen if the Kremlin were to cut off the channels of communication?

Israel will know how to conduct itself militarily in Syria, even without coordination with the Russians. This would require more intelligence efforts to rule out a Russian presence.

A scenario in which Russian air-force planes stationed in Syria will take action against Israeli air-force planes in our assessment is a scenario with a . . . very low probability. However, should such a scenario occur, the Russian pilots would have to deal with technology and pilots of a different standard than they have come up against to date. In such a case, this would not be the first time Russian pilots would fight directly against the IDF in general and against the Israeli Air Force. About 50 years ago (the late 1960s and early 1970s), Russian soldiers pilots acted directly, within the framework of the Egyptian army, against Israel.

Read more at Alma Research and Education Center

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, War in Ukraine

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia