Opinion

Israel Hayom

Israel has no choice but to operate in Syria

This is a struggle between the superpowers in which ‎Israel is merely a pawn and one where no punches, ‎even half-truths, are pulled.‎

An aerial photo released by the Israeli Defense Forces on May 11, 2018, showing Iranian intelligence sites in Syria. (IDF Spokesperson)
An aerial photo released by the Israeli Defense Forces on May 11, 2018, showing Iranian intelligence sites in Syria. (IDF Spokesperson)
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

A reported Israeli strike in Syria on ‎Wednesday ‎was, according to foreign media reports, a clear ‎signal that despite the strategic changes in the ‎region, Israel will continue to adhere to its declared policy of ‎preventing Iran from entrenching itself militarily ‎in the war-torn country, and preventing Tehran ‎from arming Hezbollah, its regional proxy, with ‎advanced weapons. ‎

Wednesday’s strike, which reportedly targeted several ‎Hezbollah ‎leaders as well as Iranian ‎ammunition ‎depots near ‎Damascus, was the largest raid since the ‎Sept. 17 incident in which a Russian reconnaissance ‎plane was downed by Syria aid defenses responding to an Israeli airstrike.‎

Russia was furious over Wednesday’s operation, ‎saying the strike placed civilian aircraft in harm’s ‎way, but foreign-media reports have quoted unnamed ‎officials as saying that the Russians were informed in advance ‎of the raid through the operational hotline Israeli ‎and Russian forces in Syria maintain.

If this was indeed the Israeli Air Force’s ‎handiwork, Russia’s castigation is likely intended ‎for several ears: first, for the Syrians, who must ‎be wondering why Moscow allows Israel to continue ‎operating freely in their airspace; second, for ‎leaders near and far, with the aim of reaffirming ‎Russia’s status as the dominant superpower in the ‎Middle East; and third, and most important, for ‎Israel, which again learned that the Kremlin is no ‎longer willing to turn a blind eye to such ‎operations and may, in the future, translate its ‎disapproval into various measures on the ground.‎

The Russian claim that Syrian air defenses ‎intercepted most of the IAF’s missiles should, as ‎usual, be taken with a big grain of salt. Syrian air ‎defenses did launch dozens of missiles at their ‎targets, so it is reasonable to assume they were at least somewhat successful, but Moscow’s sweeping claim is likely motivated by an effort to prove that Russia’s S-‎‎300 missile defense systems provided to Syria are ‎superior to American defense systems. ‎

This is a struggle between the superpowers in which ‎Israel is merely a pawn and one where no punches, ‎even half-truths, are pulled.‎ This has created a delicate equation that requires ‎Israel to tiptoe between the lines, especially given ‎U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last week to ‎withdraw of all American troops from Syria. ‎

Israel will undoubtedly have to counter Iranian and ‎Hezbollah moves in the future—perhaps even in the ‎very near future. Moscow will no longer be as ‎sympathetic to such action and it falls to Israel to ‎spare no effort to foster the necessary ‎understandings so as to avoid mistakes, and ‎especially to avert a situation where an offensive ‎move devolves into a strategic problem.‎

This is not impossible, and it seems that Israel can ‎still maintain the necessary operational leeway, as ‎long as it maintains prudence and engages in selective action, ‎as it has been doing in recent months.‎

Meanwhile, the mounting tensions with Syria are ‎offset by a relative calm on the Israel-Lebanon ‎border, as Israel’s countertunnel operation seems ‎to be nearing its end. ‎

“Operation Northern Shield,” launched on Dec. 4 with ‎aim of detecting and destroying a network of ‎Hezbollah terror tunnels snaking under the border, ‎has so far unearthed five underground passageways ‎breaching Israeli territory.‎

Defense officials believe the operation will be ‎completed within two weeks, at which point the IDF ‎will refocus its attention on completing the new ‎border fence and Hezbollah will undoubtedly try to ‎compensate for its loses by devising new ways to ‎‎“conquer the Galilee” in the next war.‎

The IDF is convinced that Hezbollah will not waste ‎any more resources on digging tunnels, but rather ‎look for new ways to challenge the Israeli military ‎in the northern sector. ‎

One of the things to look out for is whether the ‎Shi’ite terrorist group will accelerate its ‎precision-missile development program in Lebanon, ‎something that would cause tensions in the sector to ‎spike and may even trigger another war. ‎

Israel must meet this possibility fully prepared ‎both militarily and diplomatically, meaning it must ‎also ensure it has international legitimacy to act. ‎This is another key reason to resolve, or at least ‎downplay, the ongoing disagreements with Russia. ‎

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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