If the Russian advanced S-300 are delivered to the Syrian government, it means the end of Israel’s superiority in the Middle East.
- Between Hezbollah's huge missile arsenal and the Syrian S-300s to protect it from the Israeli Air Force the Israeli option to go to war may no longer be available.
Despite the seven meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and many more encounters between Russian and Israeli officials, Tel Aviv hasn’t understood it can’t play freely in Syria without being punished. Russia has decided to teach the Israeli “naughty boy” a lesson by updating the Syrian defensive capabilities and delivering an updated defensive anti-air missiles system.
Moreover, the Israeli lack of understanding of the shift of balance in the Middle East and the end of unipolar dominance of the world is taking it to another direct confrontation with Iran, again due to the Syrian conflict. Iran claims it is prepared to respond to the Israeli violation of all “red lights”. Russia is trying to contain the high tension between the two sworn enemies but is happy to see Netanyahu humiliated.
The Israeli prime Minister seems to be ignoring that the rules of the game in the Levant have changed and that Moscow is running the show- to the point that it has emptied the Geneva talks of their substance and is heading towards minimising the role of the international community in any peace talks over Syria. The time has come for Israel to reconsider its policy and know its relative size in the bigger game.
For decades, the Russian bear was in hibernation, gathering the necessary economic and military strength but happy – due to a lack of other alternatives – to allow the US to “rule the world”. This is one of the reasons why Moscow allowed Libya to fall into the hands of the international community, a step that led – it seems intentionally – the oil-rich country into becoming a failed state.
When Russia decided to get involved in Syria, the world – supported by MSM (mainstream media) – made fun of Russia’s capabilities to halt the regime change in Syria (and topple President Bashar al-Assad in similar fashion to Muammar Ghedaffi) led by Europe, the rich Gulf Countries, Turkey and the United States, . But Russia has succeeded, along with its allied ground troops (which are part of the “Axis of the Resistance”) in halting that process.
One of the deals Russia made with Israel was to refrain from attacking any ground force – Iranian, Hezbollah or Iraqi – engaged in the war against Wahhabi Salafi Takferee jihadists. However, Moscow explained to Tel Aviv that it wouldn’t step in to prevent strikes against Hezbollah army trucks (never “convoys”, as Israel claims) headed towards Lebanon. The Moscow-Tel Aviv deal consisted in Israel informing the Russian military coordination centre of every Israeli air mission over Syria.
Israel reluctantly agreed to abide by the Russian superpower’s rules. Nevertheless, its air force and artillery started to attack Syrian Army positions – under the discontented eyes of Russia – to support the Jihadists’ advance, in an attempt to give these the upper hand in the south of Syria. To Israel, the presence of the “Islamic State” group and al-Qaeda is preferable to that of the Syrian Army and its allies on the borders of its occupied Golan Heights. Israel is aware that Syria will turn its guns against it and its highly experienced organised local groups to move towards the occupied territory to recover the Golan sooner or later by force, similar to what happened in Lebanon in the 2000s. Therefore, the Israeli attempt to create a jihadist-buffer zone was resisted and has failed. The Syrian army is recovering a big part of the country and gaining strength, winning every single battle it has engaged in, in the last year.
To reduce the Israeli exaggerated behaviour – “unnecessarily pushing its luck” – as I was told by a Russian high-ranking official in Damascus, Moscow made sure that Tel Aviv understood that it was tipping off the Syrian high command regarding Israeli intentions to violate Syrian airspace. The continuous Israeli hits against the Syrian Army were disturbing Russia’s plan to halt the war and defeat all Jihadists. Israel joined the US and some European countries in their attempt to prevent Russia from establishing peace in Syria.
This is when Israel started to overfly Lebanon, trying to be smart – the Russian official said – even though it is well known to the military on both Israeli and Russian sides that every single Israeli jet leaving any military airport is shown on the Russian radars in the Mediterranean. Israel started to hit Iranian targets and endangered the Russian officers operating throughout the entire Syrian geography.
Russia told off Israel many times and warned Tel Aviv that the situation would get out of control if these unnecessary violations continued. Israel was not in fact changing the course of military events in Syria but bothering everybody “like a fly annoying an elephant”.
Russia helped the Syrian air defence unit to position anti-aircraft missiles batteries to cover all Syrian territory: defensive missiles were deployed with the mission to deal with jets coming in from Lebanon, from the Golan and from al-Badiya (the Syrian Steppe). Other batteries were deployed around Damascus and clear instructions were given to the unit commanders: fire at will on the first violation of the Syrian air space.
Israel understood the deployment and received echoes of the new instructions. Russia wants to de-escalate and Iran wants to avoid a direct war with Israel because its priority is not yet to head towards the south of Syria. But Tel Aviv, spoiled by decades of US pampering and unconditional support, wanted to behave like a “naughty boy” with another superpower, violating the Lebanese air space and firing from afar against objectives in Syria. This is when Russia and Iran felt really mad.
The Israelis were reproached by Russia: its commanders saw no advantage or benefit in what these jets were doing in Syria except to drag in an Iranian response and fuel the Syrian war again just when Russia is at a very advanced stage to end it.
Russia and Iran do agree on the biggest strategic lines in Syria, but disagree on more than one detail. Russia doesn’t want to upset Israel on borders issues because this is not its priority. Whereas for Iran and Damascus, recovering the Golan and squeezing Israel into its natural size is important.
This is when Iran (the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp maintains a military facility to fight jihadists in central Syria) sent from the Syrian military airport – known as T4 – an armed drone into Israel: the practice was not supposed to trigger a wide retaliation, theoretically. Israel is constantly sending drones over Syria and its jets are regularly violating Syrian air space. Iranian forces are working along with the Syrian army under the official cover of the Syrian government. But Iran understood that Israel wouldn’t resist the temptation and would immediately send its jet to destroy the drone.
Iran pulled back its flying gadget into the T-4 from where it had departed: the trap was all set. Several Syrian air defence systems were waiting for the F-16s to hunt these down. The surprise was so great: Israeli pilots didn’t expect to see so many missiles fired from close range against its birds. The result, according to Russian sources, was devastating to Israel: two jets were downed. Israel acknowledged one but not the second – according to my source – and a third was damaged but managed to land.
The trap created a “shock to the Israeli brain”: the Israelis felt angry they were cheated so easily by Iran and, like a Spanish Toro in the arena, went into the ambush head down. Israel’s pride was hit and it looked for a revenge.
Typical of Israeli military commanders, the Chief of Staff came out to say that his army “is no longer interested in flying over Syria”. The “Axis of Resistance” members are indeed very familiar with Israeli doublespeak language. Many key positions were asked to keep some minimum personnel and all trucks carrying weapons to Lebanon were halted.
No one expected a hit against T4 because that would put Israel against Iran on the battlefield. Hezbollah, in its long struggle against Israel always made sure that any hit wouldn’t bring Israel out of control to do the unexpected and respond disproportionately.
This is why continuous warnings were launched by its Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah before any serious action. Moreover, all Israeli hits against Hezbollah’s trucks were “soft”: Israel would fire against the truck enough to send a clear message that in less than a minute it is going to destroy the target. Drivers and escort abandonned the truck(s) before the real hit. This is familiar to both sides and is keeping the situation “kind of” under control. Hezbollah doesn’t retaliate as long as the hit is not on Lebanese territory. Whenever the rule of engagement is violated, there is a price to be paid. Israel accepts minor consequences as it has been the case in numerous previous events.
Therefore, we could say that Iran started first by attracting Israeli jets into an ambush and going outside the “usually accepted scenario”. Israel didn’t go for a huge Iranian command and control headquarters annexed to Damascus airport but went against the source. It was too difficult for Netanyahu’s pride to swallow the 1-0 Iran goal. He wanted at least to break even.
We could also say that Israel didn’t listen to numerous Russian warnings and behaved outside the players’ comfort zone by continuously nagging at all forces fighting jihadists in Syria. Russia told Israel that no one was interested in its continuous hassling, therefore this unreasonable act should stop.
We could certainly conclude that Israel has a pretention of superiority in the Middle East, and feels free to violate any airspace, with little respect for international law and boundaries, and is constantly looking for a confrontation, specially when voicing the opposite.
Whatever the theory that underlies all this, Israel knows its playground is shrinking. Russia is determined to increase the Syrian potentiality in defensive anti-air systems (Syria received recently 40 Pantsir-S2 short range cannon missile air defence system) despite the Israeli shouting and screaming at Moscow to refrain from this step. Israel has a point to be concerned about: any air defence system in Syria means an increase in the wider capability of the “Axis of the Resistance”. If the Russian advanced S-300 (protected by Pantsir S-2 to avoid being destroyed by any Israeli or US long-range cruise or air missile) are delivered to the Syrian government, it means Israel is no longer capable of violating its neighbour’s air space with impunity.
If the Israeli Air Force is restricted in its movement, that will end Israel’s superiority in the Middle East. In 2006, Hezbollah proved capable of inflicting damage on Israel and forced a cessation of hostilities after only a month of battle. Twelve years later, the missiles in Hezbollah’s warehouse are much bigger, more accurate and much much more numerous. With a restricted Air Force and a huge fire power with its enemy, the Israeli option to go to war may no longer be available. An ideal situation, perhaps not in the Israeli mind and long-term objectives.
Would Iran retaliate? Iran is a sovereign country and doesn’t retaliate according to social media moods. A hit by one country against another has its own dynamics. Iran has many friends and allies in the Middle East and outside the region. Therefore, it is widely believed that the retaliation is not imminent and, if it takes place, it could carry a very low profile and would be “a deniable act”, yet enough for Israel to know who is behind it. When Israel hits, the leaking of its responsibility goes through US media. When Iran hits, the US media speculates but Iran doesn’t release information: on the contrary, it denies. These two different styles in the use of the media speak volumes.
Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian Security Council Secretary, met, separately, in Sochi, with his Iranian and Israeli counterparts Ali Shamkhani and Eytan Ben David to cool down the tension between Tehran and Tel Aviv over the latest Israeli attack on the Iranian military installation at the T-4.
Russia mediated with Damascus to avoid firing missiles over civilian Israeli areas every time Israeli jets violate the Syrian air space. However, Syria has learned a lot from seven years of war and has become tougher and more experienced in warfare. Therefore, it is time for Israel to reconsider its belligerent strategy. Israel’s continuous menace launched through the media means one thing: “we are not willing to go to war because we are not ready but we don’t want to lose face. We can shout very loud about this, along with a few Mossad overseas operations, but all we want to do to is keep the world talking about how strong we are”.
It is time for Israel to be more honest with itself and stop punching above its weight: the rules of the game have changed, the Middle East is no longer the same, and the referee has changed sides!