Why You Should Know About Israel’s Air Attack in Syria and Why You Should Care

Jonathan Feldstein
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Posted: Sep 10, 2017 10:00 AM
Why You Should Know About Israel’s Air Attack in Syria and Why You Should Care

Perhaps you didn’t hear about Israel’s alleged air strike on a Syrian military installation last week, but the incident has significant global ramifications about which you should be aware.

In Israel, it’s always reported that incidents like these are “allegedly” carried out by Israel because in most cases, Israel neither officially confirms nor denies responsibility.  This is part of a culture where all military items go through a censor. Overtly stating that Israel did something like this is typically not allowed.  Ambiguity also allows Israel’s enemies the wiggle room that, though they may know full well that something might have Israeli fingerprints, avoiding public confirmation lets them weigh whether any response is wise, making bombastic public declarations, taking action, or even acknowledging that their defenses have been breached.  Sometimes it’s best that things are left unsaid, assuming Israel is involved, as the effect is clear all the same.

Often, because Israeli sources are not allowed to publicize that Israel did something like this, details are leaked to international media which reports it without the oversight of Israeli military censors. Then, Israeli media quote the same information attributed to “foreign sources” which sufficiently bypass who can report on Israeli military activities, what sources are quoted, etc.

The strike on the Syrian missile and chemical weapons facility is important for a multitude of reasons.  It’s also noteworthy that it took place ten years to the week when Israel successfully destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility that was being built by North Korea.

Assuming Israel carried out this attack, it underscores that Israel has red lines and sticks to them.  This is an important message to our enemies and allies alike, making it clear that we will take action as needed, even if there are possible divergent or conflicting objectives.  

It’s been reported that the reason for the air strike now is because Israel was concerned that Syria was going to transfer the facility to Hezbollah.  That’s obviously a red line as Hezbollah basically controls Lebanon and it would transfer weapons there, where they have over 100,000 rockets pointed at Israel.  Attaching WMD to a long range Iranian rocket is a grave threat. Previously Israel has attacked convoys of weapons being sent to Hezbollah from Syria. If true in this case, Israel prevented manufacturing of both sophisticated missiles and WMD.

The air strike also keeps all players in Syria in check, reminding them that they are being watched, and they can fight one another all they want, but when it comes to threatening Israel that’s not going to fly.  This includes all the current players from the Assad regime, to the Sunni backed rebels, ISIS, and most significantly Iran which seeks to widen its influence and control a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

This air attack also sends a clear message to both the US and Russia. Israel of course is not looking to oppose or overtly conflict with either, but is making it clear that the ceasefire agreement they constructed and which empowers Iran is unacceptable.  The message is simple: Israel will act where and when it needs to.

Prime Minister Netanyahu met Russian President Putin recently and made it clear that Israel would act in Syria as needed, “We will act when necessary according to our red lines. In the past, we have done this without asking permission, we have provided an update on what our policy is.”

What’s not (yet) known is if, or whether, Israel and Russia coordinated a way for Israel to operate unimpeded.  Did Israel collaborate directly with Russia as the dominant force in Syria? Did it get a green light and Russia looked the other way? Did Israel completely surpass sophisticated Russian air defense systems with a capacity even greater than previously known?

Operationally it underscores Israel's dominance over Syria and Lebanon which is not such a big feat.  Lebanon is teeming with and controlled by Hezbollah terrorists, a growing military force that’s now more war tested, but also spread thin. This indicates that if and when needed, Israel can and will strike again if red lines are crossed. Once, a senior Israeli defense official told me that our intelligence is so good, we know what kind of humus they are dipping their pita into.  Indeed, Israeli intelligence is something to be in awe of, never ceasing to amaze with the depth and breadth of its reach. Though we don’t hear about it often, very little like this happens without Israeli intelligence involved.  

The air strike also sends a clear message to Iran which is also watching events in North Korea to see how the world responds and assess what they might be able to get away with.  Even as a deterrent, an attack like this makes the Iranians have to think twice, or redouble their efforts for secrecy, which may ultimately play into Israel’s hands.

Perhaps this will also prop up U.S. resolve that no mission is too great, and that if Israel can undertake such an operation, not only can the U.S., but maybe it should.

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu flies to Argentina, the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister is making a visit there, and the first time since a famous direct flight more than 50 years ago that embodied Israel’s can do attitude, underscoring that in the interest of Israeli security Israel can and will reach even as far as the other side of the world. In 1960 infamous Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and brought to justice in Israel.  That’s the last time there was a direct flight between the two countries.  

This visit also sends a clear message to Iran which perpetrated two terror attacks in Argentina against Jewish institutions in 1992 and 1994; whether in Syria, Iran or Argentina, we know who you are and we can get you.  

The airstrike in Syria this week is a significant event with many implications in an ongoing war that Israel cannot and will not lose.