Latest Syria Exchange Marks Start of New Battle in Secret Israel-Iran War, Experts Say
Sunday’s Iranian rocket attack on the Golan Heights and the resulting massive Israeli retaliatory strike in Syria against targets connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force marked the opening of a new battle in the ongoing secret war between the Jewish state and the Tehran regime, experts said on Monday.
According to the Hebrew news site Mako, the rocket attack was planned in advance by Tehran in a bid to impede Israel’s ongoing air campaign against Iranian entrenchment in Syria. The IDF had identified preparations for such an attack for several weeks and readied a response plan.
The purpose of the Israeli operation was to restore deterrence against Iran and destroy high-value sites, such as ammunition dumps and intelligence installations. According to Mako, Iran’s ally Russia was informed of the strike just before it was launched.
In an analysis published by the Hebrew news site Walla, military analyst Amir Bohbot wrote, “The ayatollahs in Tehran made a decision several months ago to give full backing to the Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, despite domestic criticism of continued Iranian consolidation in Syria, and despite Israeli determination and the price Iran will have to pay.”
“The purpose of the launch” at the Golan, he said, “was to create a balance of terror between Iran and Israel and to exert pressure on the Israeli government not to attack Iranian targets in Syria.”
“Israel’s response,” he noted, “was crushing.”
Nonetheless, Bohbot said, there was no reason for complacency. “The public must understand that the Iranians are cooking up a more severe response and it will come,” he said. “It does not have to be on the border or in the home front, but it can also be expressed through terror.”
“The Iranians are determined to complete their settlement in Syria, and as of now they are not in a place where they would like to be,” he added. “They do not have an airport or the scope of ammunition they would like at this time, nor the range of missiles, defense systems, intelligence bases, and the range of armed militias they would like to have throughout Syria and certainly near the Israeli border. But they are definitely working 24/7 to meet this goal.”
In a series of tweets on Monday, Amos Yadlin — head of the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) think tank — warned that the situation could easily deteriorate further.
“The risks of the IAF should be presented clearly,” he wrote. “The downing of an Israeli aircraft, friction with the Russians, and a proper escalation to be weighed against the battle gains.”
“At the moment,” he continued, “all parties are not interested in a comprehensive war. At the same time, wars break out even when neither side wants them.”
“The Russians could prevent the escalation of the conflict in Syria if they were to work with the Iranians to remove them from Syria,” he noted. “They do not do so and at the same time send messages to Israel not to attack Damascus International Airport. Despite the Russian warnings, Israel attacked at night, but late at night, with the intention of not harming civilian and Russian aviation.”
סיכוני המב״מ ראוי שיהיו מוצגים בבהירות ובעדכניות: הפלת מטוס ישראלי, חיכוך עם הרוסים, והסלמה נכון שישקלו מול ההישגים במערכה. כרגע הצדדים כולם אינם מעוניינים במלחמה כוללת. יחד עם זאת, מלחמות פורצות גם כאשר אף צד לא רוצה בהן. 4/6
— Amos Yadlin (@YadlinAmos) January 21, 2019
Dr. Shimon Shapira of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank took a more pessimistic view, writing, “This attack indicated Iran’s readiness to ratchet up the level of violence and take greater risks of a strong Israeli reaction, thereby leading to a military deterioration with Israel.”
“If reports that some of the targets attacked by Israel were close to the Qods Force command building in the Damascus region are true, from the viewpoint of Iran, it can no longer tolerate Israeli attacks,” he added. “This is certainly the case after the end of Israel’s ambiguous policy of claiming the military actions and its readiness to take direct responsibility for attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.”
“Therefore, it would seem that at this stage, we are facing a new strategic situation with regard to Israel’s dealing with Iran in Syria,” Shapira concluded. “At its foundation lies the risk that Iran, through the Qods Force, will intensify its reactions to Israeli attacks on Syria and is even prepared to enter into a limited conflict with Israel.”