by Assaf Golan
The round of strikes in Syria since the unusual rocket fire toward the Hermon on Saturday is cranking up tensions on the northern border. As of Monday afternoon (Israel time), we aren’t talking about actual fighting, but rather an exchange of blows from afar. Still, defense and security experts who have been asked to analyze developments in the north agree that this isn’t a conflict with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad – it’s with Iran. Is it an escalation, or a coincidence?
Middle East experts agree that whatever the goal of the aberrant rocket launch on Saturday, Israel is responding not to Syrian President Bashar Assad but to Iran.
Expert on Syria and the Middle East Professor Eyal Zisser explains that the latest strikes in Syria attributed to Israel have nothing to do with Assad, or even the rocket fired at the Hermon. Zisser says they are part of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran.
“The strike on the T4 airfield deep inside Syria is a strike that demanded a lot of preparation and advance planning. This is not a sequel to what happened in response to the rocket fired at the Hermon – apparently, if it is indeed an Israeli strike, it is part of a planned attack on the Iranians, who continue to try and entrench themselves in Syria despite our battle to stop them,” Zisser says.
Zisser says that Assad’s forces were not responsible for the rocket fired on Saturday. “Bashar Assad has been in power for 20 years, eight of which saw a major civil war [in Syria]. In addition, he has the Russians to worry about. He isn’t busy fighting us. It’s of no interest to him or what he’s paying attention to. The ones who could execute a rocket launch like that are Iran and Hezbollah, as part of their struggle against us – which definitely has the potential to blow up. The Iranians are more audacious and are trying to attack us.”
When asked whether the rocket launched toward the Hermon has anything to do with the current spike in tension between Iran and the U.S., Zisser notes that “Iran is handing its conflict with us as if the U.S. didn’t exist. But it’s obvious that the Iranians want to resume negotiations with the Americans in a strong position, so they’re trying to attack all the U.S.’s friends in the region.”
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a research fellow with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, observes that at this point, it’s hard to assess the significance of the attack from Syria.
“The T4 airfield has been the target of repeated strikes. There were already strikes on the site, and we don’t need to see it as something unusual. It’s part of the struggle Iran and Israel are waging in Syria,” Amidror says.
“However, the rocket launch toward the Hermon is somewhat unusual, and Israel responded to it with substantial force. But it’s hard to estimate why the unusual action was taken in the first place,” he adds.
On the question of whether the Iranians are trying to heat up the front with Israel as a response to Iran-U.S. tensions, Amidror thinks that “firing a few rockets is not the kind of action that really threatens Israel. If that was the Iranians’ goal, it was stupid of them, because it doesn’t really bother the U.S. or Israel and won’t change their regional policy. It’s hard to imagine that was the reason for the [rocket] attack,” Amidror says.
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