Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu(L) and Departing Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot
Alex Fishman

By breaking its ambiguity on Syria, Israel backed its enemies into a corner

Opinion: When Netanyahu and Eisenkot decided to end Israel's plausible deniability regarding its airstrikes in Syria, they damaged the country's deterrence, and there is no knowing how all of this will blow up in our faces.

The end of departing Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot's era and the beginning of the election season bring about a sharp turn in Israeli policy on the northern front.



It is true no one has invested too much thought nor held thorough discussions on the matter, however Israel has abruptly renounced its policy of ambiguity over Iran and its proxy Hezbollah's entrenchment in Syria.


PM Benjamin Netanyahu, left, comfirmed Friday's Israeli airstrikes in Syria, right (Photo: Amit Shaabi )
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, left, comfirmed Friday's Israeli airstrikes in Syria, right (Photo: Amit Shaabi )


This decision raises the possibility of an escalation on Israel's northern front, and even all-out war, which might play into certain political hands in Israel. An assertive security agenda against Syria and the Islamic Republic may be an ace up that same sleeve as Israel prepares to go to the polls on April 9.


When, in weekend interviews with the Sunday Times and The New York Times, Eisenkot assumed responsibility for the thousands of strikes that have been carried out in Syria as part of Israel's covert campaign against Iran, he actually intended to stress he had waged successful wars and thwarted Tehan's plans.


Eisenkot's revelation detracts from Israel's ambiguity policy, however, it is still a general admission that does not obligate the other side to immediately respond.


On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that the Israel Air Force struck Iranian targets in Syria over the weekend, following Syrian reports of successful interceptions over Damascus. This was a strikingly different to Eisenkot's non-specific admission. For had the Israeli attack in Damascus seen Iranian and Syrian fatalities, the confirmation by the prime minister would have probably triggered retaliation.


Departing Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot     (Photo: IDF Spokesman's Unit)
Departing Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (Photo: IDF Spokesman's Unit)


When Israel confirmed it had attacked the T-4 military Airbase in Syria's Homs in 2018, Iran was compelled to retaliate with missile fire at the Golan Heights. Since an Israeli Air Force aircraft had been downed during that strike, Jerusalem had no choice but to assume responsibility. But in another incident during which Israel hit Iranian targets in Syria and its warplanes emerged unscathed, the Jewish state remained silent, preventing the other side from retaliating.


The minute Israel allows its enemies to damage its policy of plausible deniability, it is actually abandoning its own doctrine of waging "a war between wars." 


According to this doctrine, the overarching goal is to harm the enemy while avoiding giving him a casus belli. If the situation escalates to a war of attrition war or an all-out conflagration, the doctrine — with its main underlying principle of ambiguity—collapses.


When Netanyahu and Eisenkot decided to end Israel's ambiguity over the strikes in Syria, they damaged Israel's deterrence. The enemy is deterred and cautious after sustaining an attack for which no one assumes responsibility, and therefore is unable to effectively retaliate.


But when Eisenkot and Netanyahu brag about Israel's activities beyond enemy lines, they obligate the enemy to respond, since he too must face public opinion back home.


Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin


Another attack, and another Israeli claim of responsibility—and there is no knowing how all of this will blow up in our faces.


Then again, perhaps ambiguity really has run its course, given that Israel is already reporting to Russia before every strike it carries out in Syria. It's hard to remain unpredictable when you are handing your enemy's sponsor your playlist.


But for the time being, and despite Russia's ire at the Jewish state for harming its the interests of its Syrian protégé, Moscow has yet to carry out any aggressive action against Israel. This too could be a danger sign for Israel, as abandoning its previously held practices could well make Russia feel insecure enough over this unrestrained behavior to finally take action against the Jewish state, which it sees as responsible for the loss of one of its planes not so long ago.



פרסום ראשון: 01.14.19, 23:25
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