Israel’s December 7th use of long range, surface-to-surface missiles to strike a military airport inside Syria indicates a dangerous change in the tense dynamic of the Middle East.
The fact that Israel attacked a military target inside Syria shouldn’t surprise anyone. A week before, reports indicate that Israeli bombers struck two Hezbollah weapons conveys within Syria and as back in 2007, Israel bombed a Syrian government nuclear site.
There is no doubt that Israel is willing, and has been compelled, to defend its existence with military force. But what sets this attack apart is the use of surface-to-surface missiles rather than bombers.
Simply put, the Russian presence in the skies over Syria and their air defense system has elevated the risk for manned flights from Israel. The cost of a single guided missile with a range of over 25 miles is greater than the cost of a precision munition dropped from an F-16, even considering the cost of fuel for the aircraft.
But it is less costly when considering the danger posed to the pilot, the fighter jet or the risk of starting a war should Israeli planes engage with Russian jets and anti-air batteries.
Israeli military commentator Ben-Yishai was quoted as saying, “Had Israel launched planes to carry out the mission, they would not have had to enter Syrian territory to hit the air base and could have simply flown over the sea or over Lebanese territory.
But the sensitive and long-range radars, which the Russians brought to Syria when they entered the fray, would have been able to detect the presence of Israel Air Force planes in the area.
It’s even possible that the Russians would have warned the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries which, according to reports, have already tried to hit Israeli planes as they embarked on missions to stop Hezbollah from arming itself.”
It is this coordination of Russian and Syrian forces that has raised cause for concern, together with the presence of Russian S-400, S-300 and SA-23 surface-to-air missile systems now employed in Syria.
The possibility for direct confrontation between Russian and Israeli fighters cannot be discounted either, as this has already occurred between Turkish and Russian planes as well as several near-misses with both American and French aircraft in what an Israeli military source has called the most crowded airspace on the planet.
Describing the air traffic near the border, he continued, “We’ve never seen a situation like this before. I am doubtful whether the skies anywhere else on earth are as crowded.
The Russians are sitting here with jets, ships and sophisticated radar installations, but in addition to that, we also have French jets flying overhead on their way from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to attack coalition targets.
Then there are American fighter jets and British jets taking off from Cyprus as well as aircraft from many other nations. All of this must be coordinated on the most sensitive levels.
Add all our own interests and the routine activities of the Israeli Air Force, and you get some idea of how delicate the situation is.” Delicate indeed, and this hair-trigger situation is only one part of the puzzle.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has personally visited Russian President Vladimir Putin three times this year and outside of official visits, the two leaders have had numerous lengthy conversations.
And they have much to discuss now. With a Russian military machine supporting Israel’s enemies, let’s consider the gravity of changes that a long-term Russian presence has brought to the Middle East.
A high-ranking Israeli military official said in an interview to the Al-Monitor newspaper that “the biggest advantage [of the Russian presence] is the fact that the Russians now manage the northern front, for better or for worse.
They determine what happens there. Until recently, everything that happened on the northern front was dictated by more radical forces, which pose a significant threat to Israel. They set the pace.
Orders came from Iran, through the supreme leader to General Qasem Soleimani and the Revolutionary Guard. The situation has since changed. Iran is still involved up to its neck, but it is no longer determining the pace of events and no longer giving the orders.
A hostile military force on Israel’s border is hardly to be celebrated, but the Russians are a more predictable presence than Hezbollah, ISIS or any of the other extremist groups or Iranian proxies in the region.
On the other hand, Russia and Israel hold exactly opposite views on many of the key players in the region and recent events.
Russia views the American-Iranian nuclear deal in a positive light whereas Israel does not. Israel considers Iran and its proxies to be the greatest regional threat-Russia clearly does not.
Israel has counted on the ability to strike back against the Syrian regime when the terrorist groups it supports launch attacks on Israel, but the Russian presence supporting Assad will, as the recent missile strike has shown, complicate this policy and threaten Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Consider the possibility of a series of major attacks on Israel by Iranian proxy groups, such as Hezbollah. Launching their attacks on Israel from Syria with Syrian backing and Iranian weapons, the terrorists could expect the Israel response to be met with Russian air power.
Soon, what began as a terrorist attack by Hezbollah would have the potential to draw in Russia, the United States and other regional powers. One false move could be disastrous.
Israel has shifted strategies, starting with its December 7th rocket strike on the Mezzeh Airport. What is clear is that Israel and Russia will both need to continue to tread carefully in this dangerous new landscape both to ensure Israel’s safety from terrorist threats and to avoid a potentially far more deadly conflict.
As noted previously, the skies and sea are thick with swarms of aircraft and ships from many nations. The Russians are presumed to be in charge; giving orders and directing this military theater.
God, however, has already spoken: “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for My people and for My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted My land… Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3.1,2. 14)