by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Israel used missiles instead of planes in several of these attacks to avoid unnecessary friction with the new sheriff in town, Russia.
Over the past several weeks we have seen reports in the Arab media, which have been corroborated by official government mouthpieces in Damascus, that Israel has renewed its airstrikes in Syria. Allegedly, Israeli warplanes -- and for the first time ground-to-ground missiles fired by Israel -- hit weapons shipments on Syrian soil, travelling from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel has not formally commented on the reports. Meanwhile, according to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's message to European diplomats, quite possibly intended for ears in Moscow in any event, Israel is acting on its right to protect its citizens but has no intention whatsoever of intervening in the war in Syria. Translated into Hebrew, Israel has indeed targeted and will continue target weapons shipments earmarked for Hezbollah, yet has no intention of influencing the fighting in Syria and depriving the Russians -- but the Iranians and Hezbollah as well -- of their impending victory, which has come earlier than expected in the civil war that for the past six years has ravaged our neighbor to the north.
After all, the attacks attributed to Israel come amid the dramatic turn of events in the war in Syria. Bashar Assad -- or more precisely his allies fighting on his behalf -- is swiftly retaking Aleppo, the country's second-largest city. The city's fall to Assad, who is backed by the Russian-Iranian axis, will deliver a crushing blow to a rebel camp already in shambles. It will provide momentum to the Syrian president, who is gradually re-establishing his control over a significant portion of the country.
The end of the war in Syria, if indeed the optimistic scenario for Putin and Assad materializes, would undoubtedly slam shut Israel's window of opportunity to pummel Hezbollah on Syrian soil, which had opened when the war erupted. Israel, if the war were to end, would also face a reality it would no longer be able to influence -- neither the Syrian map nor the developments taking place there. Indeed, some in Israel hoped the continued fighting in the country would help Israel establish its grip on the Golan Heights and give it a bargaining chip with which to demand that any agreement to end the war would also include a withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces -- from Syria's north, center but also from its southern region along the Israeli border.
Israel, in the meantime (at least according to the foreign reports), is seemingly continuing to attack targets in Syria despite the massive Russian presence there. The Arab press has even reported that Moscow has tacitly agreed to these attacks and has also demanded of Hezbollah that it not respond. Reports to this effect have incensed Hezbollah's leaders, who uncharacteristically rushed to deny their veracity. These reports do, however, show that the Russian presence in Syria could also provide certain benefits for Israel.
The Russian presence, therefore, has not paralyzed Israel's ability to take action, though it has made this action transparent for Moscow. In Israel this fact is already being taken into account, evidenced by reports that Israel used missiles instead of planes in several of these attacks to avoid unnecessary friction with the new sheriff in town, Russia. In any case, it is merely a drop in the ocean. Hezbollah's arsenal of over 100,000 missiles is the threat for which Israel must prepare.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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