Israel faces various threats to its peace and security from time to time, and has throughout its existence beginning in 1948. However, the threats from Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and their ilk to the north are in sharp focus this week.
Last Friday night Iran deployed a drone from Syria that penetrated Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. Israel destroyed it with an Apache helicopter. Then on Saturday Israel sent eight F-16s across the border into Syria to strike the airfield in the Homs governorate, called the T-4 base, where the drone originated, as well as other Iranian and Syrian targets. Although the mission was a success, one Israeli F-16 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire—though the crew made it back to Israel after they ejected safely. It is reported that “20 Syrian air defense missiles were fired towards Israeli jets during missions over Syria.” In the series of airstrikes, Israel also targeted air-defense radar and missile sites in Syria.
The Iranians have been exploiting the chaos of the Syrian civil war to build up military assets there that target Israel, while sending sophisticated weaponry to Lebanon by way of Damascus. Iran began deploying its soldiers to Syria six years ago, under the guise of joining the fight against ISIS and to prop up the Assad regime in Syria.
However, most significantly, the events of this past weekend mark the first time Iran has launched a direct attack on Israel. In the past, Iran used proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas to target Israel. As a matter of fact, as the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism, it is through it agents and proxies that Iran historically attempts to sew unrest, destabilize other governments around the world, and fight wars that are in Iran’s malevolent interests.
Israeli military officials won’t say whether the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was armed. While it would be a surprise if Israel’s reprisal was prompted by an unarmed UAV, the laws of war are clear: Any nation is allowed to protect its sovereign airspace and territory; whether or not the drone carried weapons is legally immaterial. Indeed, this was not the first drone incursion into the Golan Heights. Last year, Israel’s missile defenses intercepted several Iranian-built drones attempting to enter Israeli airspace from Syria. Hezbollah, Iran’s agent, also has a history of launching rocket attacks on Israel’s northern border.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had earlier revealed that the T-4 base was occupied by fighters from Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Israelis also took a calculated risk Saturday of provoking the Russians: Russia has placed its latest anti-aircraft missile batteries throughout southwest Syria and Russian personnel are sometimes embedded with Syrian air-defense units and may have been present at the T-4 base. We do not know whether Russia was involved in unleashing the surface-to-air missiles that downed the Israeli F-16.
Significantly, the Israelis launched, within hours, a second wave of airstrikes against additional Iranian and Syrian targets, including air-defense sites. According to Israeli sources, the second wave was the largest aerial attack against Syria since the Lebanon war of 1982, when Israeli planes struck Syria’s Soviet-built surface-to-air missile batteries in the Bekaa Valley. By the end of the day, Israel's military claims they disabled half of Syria's air defenses in those Saturday afternoon strikes.
The events of last weekend illustrate how the divergent aims of Iran and Israel could lead to a war between the two Mideast powers: Iran has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and the elimination of the Jewish people. Israel wants peace with all its neighbors, but understandably is committed to its homeland defense. Additionally, as Tehran increases its military presence in Syria, Israel has warned those troops are a threat to their national security and the peace of the region. Unfortunately, the brokered “Syrian” agreement between Russia, Iran, and Turkey allows for an increased and possibly permanent Iranian presence in Syria. The so-called “de-escalation zone” benefits Iran and its strategic goal of establishing an arch of influence and power stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea.
For its part, Hezbollah said the confrontation would mark the beginning of a new strategic phase against Israel, although it took no specific military action. Israel moved multiple “Iron Dome” anti-missile batteries to the northern part of Israel over the weekend. That act, along with the Israeli Air Force taking out a portion of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries, illustrates how seriously Israel is taking this latest threat.
The Trump Administration has rightfully reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. That declaration will carry much weight as Israel considers its options. The Pentagon and State Department condemned Iran’s violation of Israeli airspace and threw their support behind Israel. The days of vacillating and being an unreliable ally to the Middle East’s only democracy, evidenced by the Obama Administration’s contentious relationship with Israel and their refusal to stand up for Israel at the United Nations, are thankfully over.
The other Arab and Muslim-majority nations in the region also realize that Iran, not Israel, is the true threat to their own survival and to peace in the region. They have been remarkably mum as to criticism of Israel’s recent actions. Behind the scenes, several of those nations have joined Israel in the quest for peace and stability in the region, and in the fight against radical Islamist terror.
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