According to a recent interview between the N.Y. Times and outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel has “dropped 2,000 bombs on targets in Syria in 2018 alone.”
In order to understand the Israel-Syrian-Iranian connection, one has to explore the unusual and unlikely partnership between Syria and Iran and what each hopes to gain from it. Oddly enough, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s late father, Hafez Assad carried on a long-time feud with those he considered to be revolutionary Islamists in the 1970’s and 80’s in order to prevent a revolution in his own country, one which has seen itself as more secular than religious.
So it’s ironic that today Syria is closely connected to Iran, a country whose revolutionary army has been among the most extreme Islamic purveyors of theocracy where all of its laws emanate from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Yet, Syria and Iran, despite these differences, came together back when Saddam Hussein was viewed by both of them to be a threat in the region. Another common thread between the two countries was their mutual hatred for Israel. For Syria, there was a tremendous loss of face after the 1967 Six Day War when Israel successfully won control of the Golan Heights, a sore spot which has festered with the Syrians since that time. Iran simply loathingly looks upon Israel as the “Little Satan,” (the U.S. being the “Big Satan), calling for death to the Jewish nation at every turn.
America also considers both of these countries as enemy nations and, finally, few others in the region support them, so this makes for a strong partnership between them. In short, Syria is happy to have strong Iranian intervention and Iran is happy to utilize neighboring Hezbollah as proxy forces in order to do its dirty work against Israel. In fact, Assad admires and nurtures Hezbollah who he encourages to be the thorn in the side of Israel who he feels constitute a threat to Syria. Neither Israel nor the U.S. has been able to reign in this imposing partnership and has sometimes had to do their best to make unhappy compromises in order to avoid more serious catastrophes.
Yet, as a result of the stockpiling of Iranian weapons being brought into Syria, as well as tunnels being built by Hezbollah in order to penetrate Israel and attack her population, Israel has had no alternative but to protect its interest and that is why so many bombs have been dropped on Syria over the past year as these threats unfolded. This included strikes both in the capital, Damascus, as well as on their airport where arms warehouses were discovered.
The problem is that Russia has also been part of the mix in its desire to prop up the Assad government, and so although Israel and Russia have been able to coexist relatively well, Israel’s need to defend herself has complicated that Russian relationship since an Israeli attack on Syria is seen by Russia as one which is contrary to their interests and agenda in the region.
Of course, Israel has no choice but to protect its citizens and failure to seal up tunnels or eliminate weapons’ factories would prove disastrous for the small Jewish country which must fight for its survival by those who are set on her destruction. Russia, also understanding this dilemma has tried to get Iran to reduce weapons’ smuggling, knowing that the only way to stabilize the Assad government would be to not risk further Israeli attacks on it.
But Israel has not always openly admitted attacks upon Syria and has done its best to operate covertly in order to sow some ambiguity on who really is behind the attacks. However, as more and more tunnels began to be discovered and the location of large caches of weapons was disclosed, Israel’s attacks became apparent and even openly threatened to be intensified. It was just recently that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly admitted that “the IDF has succeeded impressively in stopping Iran’s military buildup in Syria and in this context the IDF has attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets hundreds of times.” (JPost, January 14, 2019)
Lt. Gen. Eisenkot confirmed this by saying, “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.” (JPost, January 14, 2019) However, these disclosures by the Prime Minister and his general have been met with harsh criticism from the opposition who believe that such admissions put the nation’s security at risk. Of course, with the upcoming Israeli elections only a few months away, many among the opposition also accuse these disclosures as being intended for political gain.
Whether or not this is true, Syria, Iran and Lebanon all have a vested interest in doing great harm to Israel and ridding the region of its strong Jewish presence once and for all. But “Moscow promised Jerusalem that it would keep the Iranians 80 kilometers away from Israel’s border in the Golan Heights,” (HaAretz, Dec. 26, 2018) in order to maintain the continuation of the Assad regime.
So the cooperation between Russia and Israel – another strange bedfellow relationship may be a helpful buffer in making sure that no Iranian or Hezbollah threat to Israel is met with a strong response by the Jewish nation, even though Russia has condemned these recent Israeli strikes in Syria, calling them “provocative acts.“
What is for sure is that Israel’s enemies will continue to try to put an end to her existence and Israel will continue to defend herself, even at the risk of alienating those whose agenda is hurt by future Israeli actions.