Russian presence in his country gives Assad confidence
Analysis: Following the Syrian attempt to intercept Israel Air Force planes Tuesday, Israeli officials believe the Syrian president has decided to change his policy and relay a message to Israel that he will no longer tolerate attacks on his territory.
Tuesday's missile fire may serve as a signal to Israel that from now on, the Syrian regime plans to respond to Israeli attacks on its territory. In addition, the "spillovers" the same day—the three mortar shells which landed in the Golan Heights within hours—may be Assad's attempt to relay a message.
Israel's alleged attacks in Syria from the air and from the ground can be analyzed in three different types of events: When rockets or a terror attack are launched from Syrian territory to Israeli territory (violation of borders), when the Syrians or Iranians try to transfer weapons of a particularly high standard to Hezbollah, and in case of a real threat of chemical weapons being used by Syria or elements in Syria against Israel.
The spillover fire of the Syrian army and the rebels constitutes, according to the Israeli security doctrine, a violation of Israeli sovereignty on Syrian territory, and therefore leads to a response. The Air Force's strongest response, according to foreign sources, is when the Syrian army uses artillery and hits Israeli territory.
That is likely what happened Tuesday and is the reason why the Israeli response was carried out by aircraft. But unlike previous incidents, in which the Syrian army did not respond or did not try to prevent or disrupt the Israeli punitive action, on Tuesday it fired at the IAF aircraft.
According to the Syrians themselves, their response included the firing of S-200 missiles, called Angara in Russian and SA-5 Gammon by NATO. This strategic missile against heavy bombers was produced in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and supplied to Syria during the War of Attrition along with other types of missiles.
The unusual thing about this missile is that its range is about 300 kilometers and its flight altitude is 40,000 meters—meaning it puts almost all civil and military aviation across the State of Israel in danger, including Ben-Gurion Airport and the Air Force base in Tel Nof.
Assad Sr. did things differently
At the time, when the Soviets supplied the missile to Hafez Assad, the current president's father, concerns were raised in Israel that this strategic weapon would endanger civil aviation flying to the country and over the country and would threaten Israel's connection to the outer world. A warning was relayed to the Syrians that if they used the strategic surface-to-air missiles, Israel would launch a harsh "strategic response."
The Syrians hardly ever used this very long-range, high-altitude missile during the War of Attrition, although they had ability to do so, but it now seems that Bashar Assad feels confident due to the Russian presence in his country. Israeli officials estimate that he has decided to change his retaliation policy and threaten IAF planes operating on his territory. That is the reason why, they believe, he used strategic missiles which despite being obsolete could still threaten Israel's civil and military aircraft, even if they do not flying directly over Syria and not even over the Golan Heights, but deep in the sea west of Syria.
The missiles fired by the Syrian army on Tuesday did not violate Israel's airspace and did not constitute a real threat to the IAF aircraft which struck in Syria from afar, but Assad has decided to signal to Israel that he will not tolerate such attacks anymore. He is therefore blowing the incident and its implications out of proportions in the Syrian media, knowing that Israel receives these broadcasts and the messages concealed in them.