Today, the State of Israel has no world power it can rely on and trust when it comes to the Iranian expansion in the region. It is left with no other choice but to launch independent military operations to curb the Iranian foothold in Syria, hoping that this military activity won’t deteriorate to all-out war.
There’s a reason why IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told Yedioth Ahronoth in a special Passover interview that the chance he would lead the army to war this year was higher than in the first three years of his term.
One of the ways to curb an escalation after military activity is to keep it secret and to avoid taking responsibility. The problem is that our two lovers, each for his own reasons, wanted to tell the guys what their girlfriend had done that night.
The Russians couldn’t resist and rushed to issue a very unusual statement in the morning about two Israeli F-15 planes that had flown over Lebanon and carried out a strike from 3:25am to 3:53am, firing eight cruise missiles at the Syrian air force’s T-4 (Tiyas) airbase, which is located about 100 kilometers north of Damascus, near Homs. The Americans resisted the urge a bit longer, until Monday afternoon, when the NBC network quoted senior American officials as saying that Israel had informed the United States about the strike beforehand.
The lovers’ betrayal is already taking its toll: The Iranians couldn’t hide it, and on Monday evening Iranian television presented the pictures of four Iranian nationals who the Iranians say were killed in the Israeli attack. This is a statement, perhaps even a threat.
If the strike was indeed carried out by Israel, it wasn’t just a military move but a diplomatic defiance of both Russia and the US: You can’t ignore Israel while devising different plans concerning Syria's fate. If you fail to consider our interests, we’ll destroy any arrangement you make.
The conference held in Ankara on April 4, which focused on dividing Syria into zones of influence between Turkey, Iran and Russia, apparently ended with real results, way beyond the public statements that were issued after the meeting. Israel is mainly concerned about the achievements scored by the Iranians, who likely received permission to continue their military, economic and diplomatic presence in Syria and influence the Syrian regime. The Russians sold us out in this conference.
Three days later, in a phone call described by the Americans as “tense,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump not to withdraw from Syria and to work to remove Iran from the Syrian arena, but Trump gave him the cold shoulder. The US president has already decided to end any involvement in Syria, and the only reason the move is being postponed for now is due to pressure from the American security establishment, mainly the Pentagon.
Trump wants to call it a day in Syria and slightly warm up his relations with the Russians in a bid to reach achievements in the North Korean arena and on the nuclear disarmament issue. An American abandonment of the Kurds will also be welcomed by Turkey, which the American administration still views as an important ally.
As far as Israel is concerned, pulling the American army out of Syria isn’t just a license for the Iranians to do as they please in the war-torn country, but also a loss of military abilities. The Americans have invested a lot of intelligence in Syria. Moreover, a US withdrawal from the Kurdish area in eastern Syria opens the door to an Iranian takeover of Syria's major energy resources and the passways of Iranian equipment into Syria and Lebanon. Our great friend in Washington is getting us in deep trouble in Syria.
The T-4 airbase has become both an Iranian military-logistic center, from where Iranian equipment is transported to Lebanon and Syria, and an Iranian operational base for aerial and other activities. As far as Israel is concerned, this place cannot exist as it is today, in spite of the Syrian and Russian presence there. If the Russians and Americans fail to understand the message that was allegedly conveyed in the latest strike, the level of military activity will likely increase in a way that would provoke the Iranians and the Syrians, which may spoil the reconciliation process the Russians are trying to create in Syria.
By the way, if the strike was indeed carried out by the Israel Air Force, it seems the army has drawn conclusions from the previous attack on T-4 on February 10, as the planes managed to escape the Syrian antiaircraft defense system.
Symbolically, the day of the strike was also the first day in office of the new national security advisor of the United States, John Bolton—Iran’s greatest enemy in the American administration. This guarantees full backing for Israel in targeting Iranian interests, as much as it wants and wherever it wants.
Later Monday, the Russians somewhat came to their senses and tempered their tone. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced that Putin had no contact with the Israeli leadership and that the dialogue was being held on the regular channels. The radical comments attributed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov against the strike didn’t mention Israel’s name. The Russians still value their relationship with Israel, which is preventing misunderstandings in Syria's skies and basically preventing a military flare-up in the region. If the attack was indeed carried out by Israel, it was a reminder to the Russians: We have an interest in Syria too and we plan to forcefully protect it.