Ever since the civil war in Syria began, Iran has steadily increased its menacing military presence in Israel’s war-torn northeastern neighbor. However, the clashes last weekend were extraordinary and set some dangerous precedents.
After years of carrying out attacks under the cloak of night, Israel not only conducted a series of rare daylight air strikes in the Damascus
For most of the eight years of the Syrian civil war, Israel has been cautious not to admit to its actions in that country, though it has worked hard to ensure that everyone knows it is able to hit Iranian and Hezbollah targets when and where it wants. This constructive ambiguity was aimed partly to prevent Iran and its proxies from building a threatening military presence, and partly, by not bragging about it, to avoid forcing the other side to retaliate. In return, government-controlled Iranian media reports of Israel’s actions against Iranian targets in Syria have been very restrained, with the similar aim of avoiding domestic pressure to respond.
Over the last year Israel has gradually become less opaque about its aerial attacks in Syria, and in the last two weeks the outgoing Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has told the New York Times about striking thousands of Iranian targets “without claiming responsibility or asking for credit,” while Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has publicly claimed responsibility for attacking Iranian weapons and ammunition stores in Syria. It might be the case of a retiring general boasting about his legacy, or a prime minister scoring points during a tough election campaign.
However, it also the case that the Israeli leadership feels it is safer to be to more blunt in deterring Iran, believing rightly or wrongly that Iran or its proxies won’t risk a war with Israel, and also sending a message to Russia and the United States that the growing involvement of Iran, directly or indirectly, so very close to Israel’s border, should be a source of grave concern to the two global powers, and they had better do something about it, otherwise Israel will.
If the former Israeli military chief is right—and there is no reason to doubt his claim of intense attacks on Iranian targets over the years—it raises the question of whether Israel’s strategy is to completely eradicate the Iranian presence in Syria, and if this is the case, what is it ready to do to accomplish this objective?
Or, alternatively, will Jerusalem be content with only containing Tehran’s spearhead, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ((IRGC) led by Qasem Soleimani, and its allies the Hezbollah and the Fatemiyoun Division, an IRGC-led militia of Shi’ite Afghans? With Hassan Nasrallah constantly threatening to open a new (old) front from Lebanon, there are tough decisions to be made by Israel’s leaders. What makes the situation even more of a knife-edge is not only that Israel is increasingly operating more openly against Iran, but that the latter is constantly and openly transferring sophisticated weapons directly to Lebanon. Yet, thus far, either due to a decision by its leaders or because of Israel’s constant military pressure, Iran hasn’t managed to establish naval or air bases in Syria, something that lessens its ability to become a major threat to Israel.
Another conundrum for the Israelis, and for every other observer of the Syrian conflict as it approaches some sort of conclusion, concerns Russia’s long-term strategy in Syria and the extent to which Moscow is interested in policing events there. For all its
After the rift with Israel following the downing of the Russian
There is general agreement that no one involved in Syria, Israel
Such a scenario could