Sunday, February 11, 2018
Why Israel attacked Syria when a drone entered Israel
On Shabbat morning, February 10, 2018, a non-Israeli drone flew into sovereign Israeli territory (in northern Israel). It was shot down within 1.5 minutes of crossing into Israel.
The IDF has declared that this drone was Iranian-made. It was navigated by Iranians from a base in Syria (Anna Ahronheim, "Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria, IAF pilots eject F-16", jerusalempost, February 10, 2016).
If true, Israel now knows--if it ever had any doubts--that Iran has established a substantial military presence in Syria. Syria is no longer a country. Its 7-year civil war has turned it into a 'cemetery' (Barbara Opall-Rome, "Israeli intel chief has 'slim' hopes for Syrian peace deal", defensenews, June 15, 2016). Iran now converts that 'cemetery' into a forward operational military base it is prepared to use to attack Israel.
After shooting down the drone, Israel attacked multiple targets in Syria. At least one report said the targets were both Syrian and Iranian ("Israel launches large scale air raids against Iranian targets in Syria", afp, February 10, 2018). The targets appeared to be anti-aircraft installations, missile sites (these might the same as 'anti-aircraft installations'), and radar and communication sites (Lazer Brody, "Emunah news: hostilities erupt on Northern border", lazerbrody, February 11, 2018). Some of these targets were reported to have been as far as 200-300+ miles from the Syrian border with Israel--far closer to Iran than Israel.
We don't know if the targets were hit by missiles fired from Israel or from Israeli warplanes--or from both. We don't know the extent to which Israel's warplanes penetrated into Syria.
Hours after the attack, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the attack into its proper perspective: he said this mission was "the most intensive IAF bombing of Syrian positions since the first Lebanon war in 1982" (Herb Keinon, "Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will hit Iranian and Syrian targets as needed", jerusalempost, February 10, 2018).
What's going here? Why would Israel hit Syria so hard because of a drone? Why such a large-scale attack because of a drone incursion?
I don't know what you know about Israel's security situation. You might think Israel's in a strong position to defend itself. You might think Israel is okay, but 'under pressure'. You might think that, while there could be trouble ahead, Israel right now is in a 'quiet period'.
All of these assessments are wrong. Just a week ago, one observer of Israel's current security situation got it right when he wrote, Israel is not in any 'quiet' period. Israel is engaged in a war that could quickly get out of hand (Yochanan Visser, "Analysis: Israel is fighting a five-front war", arutzsheva, February 4, 2018). This war could require Israel to fight Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Judea-Samaria--at the same time. It would leave Israel little room to maneuver--and little time to react.
This drone incident demonstrates at least four things to Israel:
-Syria has installed increasingly sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft installations. This surface-to-air (SAM) system appears to be a medium range technology. It's designed for protecting both troops and logistic installations. The attack reveals how effective the system is in real-time combat.
-Iran is comfortable taking over Syrian military installations for its own needs. This suggests Iran inches closer to war with Israel.
-The SAM grid set up by Syria and Iran to defend against incoming Israeli aircraft is not amateurishly designed.
-Results of the bombing attacks will confirm how advanced is Iran's and Russia's assistance to Syria--and how well it can operate against Israeli aircraft (the SAM network shot down one Israeli F-16).
This incident is no random, one-off event. It's part of a test to how quickly Israel responds to provocation. The goal for these attacks is to probe Israel's military preparedness, probe Israel's response-time and learn tactical lessons about about how Israel deploys its military arsenal.
Israel lives in a very, very tough neighborhood. In this place, the appearance of strength means survival and the appearance of weakness spells danger.
My guess is, Iran sent that drone to see if Israel is strong or weak. I'd guess that if this attack was the biggest for Israel since 1982, Iran got its answer.