Thursday, July 26, 2018

Israel's message to Syria: No more 'small violations' - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

ANALYSIS: The incursion by a Syrian fighter jet into Israeli territory was inadvertent and likely stemmed from a navigational error

The downing of a Syrian fighter jet that breached ‎Israeli airspace Tuesday, together with recent ‎events on Israel's northern front have created the ‎impression that we are on the brink of a serious ‎security escalation - but that is not the case. ‎Chances of a war with Syria were and remain low. ‎

Recent events show that both Israel and Syria are ‎operating solely according to their own interests. ‎The Syrian army is busy taking over the country's ‎southwest, on the Syrian Golan Heights, and as far ‎as it is concerned the end justifies the means. ‎Israel, for its part, enforces its predetermined red ‎lines, chief among them that it will not tolerate ‎any attempt to undermine its sovereignty.‎

As a rule, Israel and Syria refrain from ‎provocations, as neither has any interest in a ‎clash. Skirmishes the likes of which we saw Tuesday ‎are rare and usually involve errant Syrian fire that ‎hits the Israeli side of the border over the ‎fighting near the shared border.‎

Tuesday's incident fits into that category. The ‎Syrian pilot had no intention of breaching Israeli ‎airspace and the incident most likely stemmed from a ‎navigational error made during a strike on rebel ‎pockets near the border. ‎

Israel, which has reiterated in the past that there ‎are no "small violations of sovereignty," did what ‎it always does when a threat presents itself – it ‎engaged and eliminated it. ‎

Israel's policy is not meant solely to defend the ‎public and the state's territorial integrity, but ‎also to send a clear message to regional players ‎that are far more sophisticated that the battered ‎Syrian Air Force, such as Iran, which might be ‎tempted to exploited any holes in Israel's defenses ‎to carry out a terrorist attack; or Russia – an ally ‎that nonetheless may be tempted to send drones into ‎the Golan Heights on reconnaissance missions.‎

The decision to shoot down the Syrian fighter jet ‎was part of the standing orders of the Air Defense ‎Command. The successful Patriot interceptor launch ‎was also a minor consolation for the failed launch ‎of the David's Sling interceptor on Sunday, but ‎mostly, it was a think hint to regional players not ‎to do anything foolish as Israel is well-defended. ‎

The incident also served Israel's interest from ‎another aspect: Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Valery ‎Gerasimov visited Israel this week (for the first ‎time). One of the issued Israeli defense officials ‎discussed with him was the Iranian presence in ‎Syria.‎

Israel demands all Iranian forced in Syria be ‎removed. Russia has been trying to convince Israel ‎to agree to their presence 100 kilometers (62 miles) ‎from the border, a notion Israel has rejected, ‎saying such distance was trivial.‎

This assumption proved correct on Tuesday. The jet ‎that breached Israeli airspace may have been Syrian ‎and not Iranian, but the incident demonstrated how ‎volatile the sector could be if players that are ‎less restrained than Israel and Syria were allowed ‎to operate in it.‎

Things on the Israel-Syria border will continue to ‎be volatile until the Syria army completes its ‎takeover of the area, so there is potential for ‎future skirmishes. ‎

Both nations share the desire to contain events and ‎avoid an escalation. Israel is wise to maintain ‎close coordination with Russia and the U.N. ‎peacekeeping force in the Golan buffer zone on these ‎issues. 

Yoav Limor


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