(July 10, 2018 / JNS) There was seemingly nothing new about the Israel Defense Forces’ alleged strike on the T4 air base in southern Syria, Sunday night. According to foreign media reports, Israel has targeted the base more than once in the past year, and in some instances, Jerusalem assumed responsibility for the airstrikes.
As with previous attacks, it appears that the airstrikes were targeting components for the air-defense capabilities Iran insists on establishing in Syria.
Yet nothing about it was routine—and not just because it was carried out in such close proximity to Russian forces stationed in Syria. If the reports are correct, Israel knowingly insisted on enforcing its red lines in Syria at a very significant point in time—three days ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and one week before Putin is set to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Since there are no coincidences in this world, the alleged Israeli attack likely sought to send an unequivocal message to both leaders. While Netanyahu will likely reiterate this message in his meeting with Putin (and his emissaries will do the same with Trump), there is nothing like an airstrike to get a point across. What Israel wants to make clear is that it does not intend to compromise on Iran’s presence in Syria and that if world powers do not act on the matter, Israel will continue to act on its own.
It is reasonable to assume Israel is not operating in a vacuum, but out of the understanding that the current situation is a convenient one. The Trump administration is very sympathetic to Israel and very hostile to Iran. The Putin regime wants quiet in Syria, and Iranian involvement anywhere always spells potential chaos. The Syrian regime wants to complete its takeover of Syria and begin the process of rehabilitating the country. The last thing its president, Bashar Assad, wants is a new conflict, especially with Israel.
Under these circumstances, Israel understands there is nothing stopping it from acting, and moreover, that now is the time to shape clear boundaries.
One can link Sunday’s alleged strike to the raid some two weeks ago on an Iranian weapons convoy on the Iraq-Syria border—the farthest attack attributed to Israel in recent years, which also clearly showed that Iran is looking for alternative land routes to the aerial route that are routinely attacked. This was also a demonstration of the unequivocal statements from the heads of the diplomatic-security establishment that any Iranian attempt to establish itself in the Golan Heights would be met with force.
For the time being, Israel appears to have the upper hand in this arena. Unlike in the past, Iran has not responded, even though several of its men were wounded and killed in the attack.
Syria has also avoided unnecessary provocations. And yet, one must not infer from this about the future. Israel now has some good cards to play, but the Middle East is a dynamic and volatile place, and Iran will continue to try to use this to its advantage.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.