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Inside Israel: Israel Enforces Its Red Lines in Syria

Eliezer Shulman

Israel missile strike echoes far beyond Syria

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have not concealed their vehement opposition to Tehran’s deepening military presence in Syria (Photo: FLASH 90)

The Episode

Israel launched five missiles last Friday night against an Iranian military installation under construction just 14 kilometers south of Damascus, destroying an arms depot and sending a clear message to regional players.

The base, situated 50 miles from Israel’s Golan border, was first revealed by the BBC on November 10. Syrian media reported that Israel used short-range Jericho-1 ballistic missiles to carry out the strike. According to the foreign press, Israel has possessed the Jericho since the 1960s, but has never admitted to using the ballistic missile in an operational capacity. The vamped-up Jericho-3 is reportedly capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

According to Syrian and Lebanese media reports, one of the missiles struck the target, while another was intercepted by a Russian surface-to-air defense system, put in place to protect Russian troops in the area.

The Context

Syria is in a sort of twilight zone, with the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime more or less guaranteed, thanks to military backing from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. While Israel has not acknowledged the attack, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have not concealed their vehement opposition to Tehran’s deepening military presence in Syria. In addition to military bases, that presence includes Iranian-funded and commandeered Shiite militias stationed throughout the country, as well as first steps toward building air and naval bases. As with other military strikes reportedly ascribed to Israel, the IDF may have been acting forcefully in an area where world powers have so far ignored its warnings.

Despite Iran’s clear stated intentions in Syria, and Israel’s vehement opposition communicated diplomatically and through the media, the international community has done little to assuage Israeli concerns. In response to Netanyahu’s grievances, Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly told Israeli officials he is powerless to act against Iran in Syria since Tehran’s presence in the country comes at Assad’s request. The Russian presence can be traced to a similar invitation.

The head of Israel’s military intelligence is slated to visit Washington in the coming days to address the Iranian presence in Syria, amid concerns that the Trump administration fails to grasp how Iranian military activity there could spark a wider regional conflagration.

The Message

The alleged Israeli strike is likely meant to reinforce the red lines that Israel has stated in public, making it crystal clear that continued Iranian military activity in Syria will be met by active preemptive measures. At the moment, all the players involved in the Syrian agreement — Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union — must regard Israel as the unknown and perhaps unpredictable actor that can scuttle any chance of stability in Syria. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 688)

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