(April 15, 2019 / JNS) The early Saturday attack attributed to the Israel Air Force indicates that Israeli policy in Syria hasn’t changed now that the elections are over: no to Iranian entrenchment, and no to precision missiles in the hands of Hezbollah.
The target, according to Syrian media outlets, was located in the city of Masyaf in Hama province. The IAF, the reports said, has attacked various facilities, used by Iranian forces, in the same area at least five times over the past two years.
This time, it appears, the main target was the site where the Iranians have manufactured precision missiles for Hezbollah. We can assume the missiles were earmarked for transfer to Lebanon although Iran also intends to arm its other Shi’ite militias operating in Syria with similar missiles.
Hezbollah’s precision missile project, which Iran is carrying out, lies at the heart of Israeli activity in recent years. Iran wants Hezbollah to have precision capabilities—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year mentioned a precision of approximately 10 meters—and simultaneously extend the range of some of the terrorist group’s missiles. Israel has already been blamed for several attacks on facilities where related activity is occurring, including the attack last September in western Syria that triggered the chain of events that led to the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses.
The attack on Saturday morning went smoothly from an Israeli perspective; neither Syria nor Russia responded in a significant manner. We can glean from this that Russia has come to terms for now with this activity, as long as it doesn’t endanger Russian forces stationed in Syria. The IAF is likely taking pains to avoid, as much as possible, any friction with Syrian surface-to-air batteries in order to circumvent further scenarios that could spark another diplomatic clash with Russia.
Israel’s policy of being proactive against Iran and its proxies is also unlikely to change for the time being. Regardless, the new Israeli government—and the next defense minister—will have to re-examine this activity within the context of new developments in Syria as it concludes its eight-year civil war, along with possible Iranian military intervention in Iraq and efforts to relocate precision missile factories to Lebanon.
In the past year, Israel has exposed four such factories. Three of these, which were built secretly in Beirut, were revealed by Netanyahu in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The fourth, according to various news outlets, was reported in March to the Americans, who addressed the matter with the Lebanese government.
The sense in Israel is that a window of opportunity now exists for pushing Iran out of Syria, or at least significantly minimizing its activities there. This window, beyond Russian reservations over Iranian activity (not to mention the Syrian regime’s own reservations, although these aren’t voiced publicly), is open because of American support and last week’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization by the Trump administration.
The hope in Israel is that a combination of military, diplomatic, economic and media-related activity can now thwart Iran’s machinations.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.