We should not ignore — or underestimate — the warnings of the Syrian Government and its army’s capability to respond to Thursday night’s attack, which Syria attributed to Israel. The spokesperson for the Syrian Army claimed that Israeli planes flying near the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in northern Israel fired missiles that hit the Mezzah military airport, located near Damascus. The airport is approximately five kilometers from Basher Assad’s presidential palace. Opposition leaders claim that there were more targets, in addition to the airport.
This is not the first time that the Syrian Army and Assad’s government have blamed Israel for attacks in Syrian territory, threatening retaliation. Until now, the threats have been empty threats.
It is clear that Assad does not want to open a new front with Israel. Just recently, with the help of Russian fighter jets, Hezbollah forces alongside Iranian Shi’ite ground forces and the Syrian army were able to defeat rebel forces and regain territory. These successes raised the Syrian army’s morale, upping their confidence. In their next conflict or the one after, Syrian leadership may develop “Crying Wolf” syndrome. Strike after strike and in the end, Assad may decide to respond.
Another possibility is for Assad to use a proxy to attack, using Palestinians or Hezbollah on the Golan Heights border in order to rattle Israel. This is something that already happened two years ago when Iranian forces, together with Hezbollah, Palestinians and pro-Syrian Druze created cells which attacked Israeli posts in the Golan Heights.
According to foreign reports, Israel managed to squash the cells by assassination, which included Jihad Mughniyah, whose father, Imad Mughniyah (Hezbollah’s “defense minister”), was assassinated in a joint Mossad and CIA operation in 2008. Druze terrorist Samir Kontar was also killed.
The Israeli security establishment does not belittle threats from Syria, taking into account a reaction from Damascus, though the probability of an attack is currently low.
According to foreign reports, Israel has attacked Syria ten to fifteen times in recent years, eliminating sophisticated weaponry such as air defense systems, navigation and guided systems as well as long-distance missiles — all of which were supplied from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah.
However, what is especially interesting is Russia’s silence. A spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry has in the past warned the United States and coalition forces not to attack the Syrian regime. Yet Russia has remained silent on the alleged Israeli attack.
If Russia, Assad’s biggest supporter, was against Israeli attacks and warned against them, it would have limited Israel’s freedom of action.
This leads us to believe that there is probably a quiet understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow. Beyond “de-conflicting,” or preventing the two militaries from shooting at each other, the full nature of the agreement remains unknown.
The deal was reached in meetings involving Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel — with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military chiefs. It seems as though Israel enjoys freedom of movement in firing missiles into Syria.
It is possible to conclude that Russia understands that Israel’s interests are solely to prevent arms transfers of sophisticated weapons from reaching Hezbollah. They also know Israel’s red line. Israel has no interest in entering Syria’s civil war, not by supporting the rebels or by acting against the regime.
It seems that so long as Russia continues to accept these principles, Israel will continue to act from time to time with accurate intelligence.