Originally published in Huffington Post Greece on Feb. 20, 2018
The Israeli-Syrian border has recently been the most intense of the past decades. The Assad regime’s anti-aircraft system shot down an Israeli F-16, one of the eight aircraft that entered the Syrian airspace following the fall of an enemy drone at the border between the two countries. Israeli aircraft infiltrated Syrian airspace to the city of Palmyra, more specifically to the T4 military airport, which was bombed after the information reported that the drone that had been abducted took off from this airport. On returning to their base, Israeli aircraft were attacked by nearly twenty anti-aircraft rockets from the two types of S-200 and S-125 Pechora, one of which hit one of them defeating it while the two pilots were saved.
Following this very important event for the Israeli administration, a meeting of the relevant military and security services was held in Tel Aviv. An immediate mandate was directed at targeting a series of military bases of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and platforms for the Assad air defense. It is estimated that the number of target positions was 12 in the first wave and 6 in the second wave of attacks, while an Israeli defense ministry official confirmed that half of the Assad air defense forces had been destroyed. As Israeli diplomatic sources reported, Netanyahu sent a message to Moscow and Washington explaining in detail what had happened and that Israel did not want to escalate, but did not accept the continuation of Iranian influence in Syria.
Over the past six years, Israeli air strikes within Syria have exceeded 30, but each time Israeli airplanes have returned safely. This latest development has many regional and international implications. It is well known that the Assad regime, which has become a tool to legitimize the Iranian and Russian presence in Syria, is no longer important. So, after this incident, the reasonable question is who is behind this escalation: the Russian or Iranian side?
There are two assumptions about the reasons for this development. The first is that behind this escalation is Russia, which has the first say in the Syrian airspace. The huge Russian Khmeimim base continuously oversees and controls a large part of it. In addition, Iran is a major ally for Moscow in the battles against the Syrian opposition and ISIS, which needs Iranian and multinational militias in any future action against the Kurdish militias under American influence at the east of Euphrates. In this way, the Russian leadership wanted to send a clear message to Tel Aviv that it does not accept Israeli interests to outweigh over those of Russia. Some political analysts link the US Air Force air strike against Russian troops trying to advance east of the Euphrates River and resulted in the death and wounding of many Russian soldiers with dropping the Israeli aircraft in revenge against Washington’s main ally in Middle East.
The second is that only Iran is behind this escalation. A special source assures that during the last eight months, the forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been trained in the use of S-200 and S-125 systems. Also, almost for a month and a half, the Iranian forces have begun monitoring and controlling airspace in southern Syria. If we link this information with Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow a few days before the incident, which was positive as pointed out by Israeli sources, it is obvious that Tehran sent the unmanned aircraft to the Syrian-Israeli border to provoke the Israeli side and was the one who downed the Israeli aircraft. Iran knows that any Russian-Israeli consensus will be at the expense of its influence in Syria.
Both assumptions assert that tensions at the Israel-Syrian border are heading for a new phase. Israel has decided to do everything possible to drive Iran out of Syria, and Iran confirms it will be a strong player and that it will not let go of the high cost it has paid so far in Syria. Recent events prove that Moscow has no upper hand in Damascus. The next few days will bring more tension among international players in Syria and Israel will be added to them not only by air but also on the ground.