Yesterday, as Omri Ceren reported, the Israeli air force struck in Syria after Iran sent a drone into Israel. The Israelis lost a fighter jet, the first time in 30 years an Israeli jet has been lost in combat. On the plus side, Israel reportedly inflicted serious damage on multiple air defense batteries and four Iranian positions in Syria including the mobile command center from which the Iranian drone was operated.
For me, the question is whether this fighting marks the beginning of an extended conflict between Israel and its enemies, most notably Iran, in Syria. This report by Anna Ahronheim in the Jerusalem Post suggests that it does. Indeed, Ahronheim argues that Israel is about to become a key player in the next chapter of the Syrian war.
Why? Because the defeat of the Syrian rebels means that Iranian and Hezbollah fighters will likely turn their attention to Israel and, in particular, the Golan Heights. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand why Iran would send a highly sophisticated drone into Israel unless it is seriously considering military action against the Jewish State.
Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military buildup anywhere near its border. Today, Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick, head of the Northern Commend, said:
Iranian involvement in the region is a disturbing threat to Israel and the entire world. Iran wants to create a front command in Syria – we will not allow it. We are not inclined toward escalation, but we have high-level capabilities and we will not hesitate to use them.
Another Israeli commander warned not only of the Iranian entrenchment across the border, but also of the return of Syrian troops to an area which was relatively quiet for close to six years while under the control of rebels. “We must prepare ourselves operationally and in terms of intelligence for the growing threat: The return of the Syrian army and Iranian forces, Hezbollah and others,” he stated.
Benjamin Netanyahu had a similar message. He said, “Israel wants peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any attempt by Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria or anywhere else.”
In this context, Israel’s attack on Syrian air defenses shouldn’t be viewed simply as retaliation. Rather, it seems like an effort to pave the way for future air attacks if they become necessary.
Following yesterday’s confrontation, witnesses reported seeing a convoy of missile-defense batteries heading north near the Israeli-Arab city of Baka al-Gharbiya. Other witnesses posted photos of several trucks carrying the batteries on central highways in northern Israel.
A senior official in Israel’s defense establishment has gone on record that, given Iran’s intentions, “the next incident is only a matter of time.” His assessment seems more than reasonable.