The new wave of Israeli attacks in southern Syria explained – Nov. 27  , 2019

In the biggest Israeli air strike inside Syria this year, the Israeli air force targeted, according to my information, several facilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Quds Force) as well as Assad regime positions in the wider Damascus province and the countryside of Damascus and Quneitra, leaving dozens of Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese fighters dead and wounded. This attack also destroyed at least two Russian Pantsir air defense batteries and a very important operations headquarters inside Damascus International Airport. The attack came a day after an incident at the Syrian-Israeli border, the details of which are not yet clear. What is certain is Iran’s response with the firing of four Fajr-5 mid-range rockets towards the Golan Heights, which were intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome without causing any human or material loss.

Here we need to pay attention to the details of this dangerous development and read the facts that preceded it to understand what is coming. First, it should be emphasized that this attack is the first after three months of excessive calm. Since early September, Israel has not hit any positions in western and southern Syria and its attacks have been limited to eastern Syria, especially around the Syrian town of Bukamal, where forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards militarily control the area. There, even the Assad regime does not have a presence or control the Syrian-Iraqi border.

This September, there have been many developments on the Israeli scene. The former was a kind of negativity that emerged between Netanyahu and Trump, when the latter flatly rejected any Israeli move against Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. That message was conveyed to Netanyahu during a meeting with US Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Esper in London in early September. Then, Trump’s second American slap on Netanyahu was his refusal to sign a joint military defense agreement between the two countries and his statement that he wanted to sign it after the Israeli government was formed. These were the first reason that forced the Israeli government to choose peace for a while.

On September 12, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met in Moscow with Russian President Putin. The two sides have tried to present this meeting positively, but the facts on the ground confirm something else: Moscow, which in one way or another has the upper hand in western and southern Syria and essentially controls the political situation in the country instead of Assad, is not happy with Israeli strikes against either Assad or Iran.

Moscow tries to focus on ending Syrian revolution as a priority and in the treatment of American influence in eastern Syria. It may then deal with the Iranian presence in the country. Netanyahu, on the other hand, believes that the delay in dealing with the Iranian presence will lead to the creation of paramilitary groups similar to the Hezbollah militias that will be difficult to eradicate thus turn the Golan Heights into a new hot front. With these differences in both sides’ views and in the light of tension with the US at that time, Netanyahu was forced to comply with Putin’s call to halt attacks in western and southern Syria, where Russia has the most influence.

The third factor behind the tranquility of the last three months at the Israeli-Syrian border is the Israeli domestic scene. The second government elections of September 17th did not bring anything new. Netanyahu has been unable to form a coalition sufficient to form a government, prompting the Israeli president to grant Gantz the power to form a government. This also forced Netanyahu not to escalate to the regional level so as not affect the internal atmosphere. These three factors were the reason why Netanyahu held back and did not take any steps or military action in the area.

But in recent days there have been several developments that have led to a more general change of scenery, the first of which is the return of a positive climate between Tel Aviv and Washington. We have clearly seen from the Pompeo declaration that Washington recognizes Israeli settlements as legitimate. This positive message has significantly restored Netanyahu’s confidence, as have Gandz’s recent apparently unsuccessful attempts to send him the message that he will remain prime minister until the third new government election. This confidence contributed to Netanyahu’s recent move within Syria. There was also information about the intention of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to launch, through the Palestinian Jihad militia, an attack with rockets and drones from Syrian territory to the Golan. So Netanyahu ordered the assassination of the leader of the jihad militia in Syria, Akram al-Ajouri, and, a few days later, the assassination of a prominent Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader in Damascus. These developments have paved the way for recent developments.

Finally, it should be stressed that mass protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran will have a very significant impact on the situation in the Middle East in general and on the Syrian-Israeli border in particular. The Iranian regime will face two scenarios. The first would be to take a step back and not respond to a possible Israeli blow until the end of these protests. The second scenario for the Iranian leadership is to move  towards escalation with another offensive against Israel, which makes the region open to many possibilities. The situation over the next days on the Syrian-Israeli border will tell whether this winter will slumber or a huge snowball will be created.