The Diplomacy of Downing Jets in Syria

The Diplomacy of Downing Jets in Syria

Monday, 12 February, 2018 - 12:00
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.
In less than two weeks, Syrian fighters downed a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter in Afrin and the Iranians downed two Israeli warplanes. So now what?

There are three degrees of power in Syria: the American versus the Russian, the Israeli versus the Iranian and the militant, i.e. Hezbollah and others, against the Free Syrian Army and other groups.

The possibility of an Israeli-Iranian clash is still the most important as Turkey will not escalate its operations or advance further and relations with it can actually be drawn in combat zones. The recent developments may have changed the rules of engagement as Israel directly struck Iranian targets and killed Iranians after it previously targeted their militias, such as Hezbollah and others.

The US also killed 100 members affiliated with militias that support Iran because they attacked US-backed Kurdish fighters. It seems Russia and Iran secretly planned to strike Israel within the context of drawing “the rules of engagement.” Israel got angry when an Iranian drone entered its airspace so it responded with air strikes on Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ posts. The IRGC responded and dared to bring down two Israeli jets. The Israelis then responded by directly targeting Iranian posts. Washington denied any prior knowledge of the attack carried out by its ally and Moscow denied that it had any role in downing the Israeli jets. This is completely unlikely.

Diplomatic efforts behind closed doors among Washington, Moscow, Israel and Iran ensued to organize the dispute and devise rules of engagement in order to avoid expanding the military confrontation or heading to a direct Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

It’s well-known that Iran is militarily weaker than Israel, and it cannot win; however, it can inflict harm as it uses an army of foreign recruits whom it’s willing to involve in its clashes. According to some estimates, this army consists of more than 50,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

Like Turkey, it took Israel a long time to intervene and it’s now paying the price of watching what’s happening from afar and observing the civil war in its neighbor Syria while thinking it will drain its rivals. Like Turkey, it let Iran expand, build bases, deploy militias and exploit the Russian cover. Now, Turkey and Israel are complaining that the war threatens their security and stability. It does not seem that the situation in Syria will calm down as confrontations among different powers are more likely to resume especially that it’s now difficult for any party to withdraw without accepting losses. Iran’s militias are deployed everywhere and they’re being further empowered as Tehran wants to govern Syria by exploiting the weakness of the Assad regime that lost most of its military and security capabilities.

Recent developments are not sudden like statements which followed downing the two Israeli jets imply. Let’s keep in mind that Tel Aviv has been studying, negotiating and preparing to address the Syrian situation under Iran’s occupation. This was the major topic during Israeli officials’ meetings with Russians and Americans in the past few months.

Regardless of all the statements made, what happened was no surprise and it must be put within the context of downing jets in the conflict between great and medium powers in Syria.

Everyone is denying any involvement but reality seems to be different. When the armed Syrian opposition downed a Russian jet above Idlib, a Pentagon official denied that the US was behind the move or that the US supplied their allies in Syria with surface-to-air missiles. The Russians denied having anything to do with downing the Israeli jets. Meanwhile, Iran denied that it sent a drone to Israel and claimed that the Syrian regime forces did and that it was the latter that confronted Israeli jets. Truth is, everyone is a partner in war. This is an important chapter that buried the Sochi plan. The solution in Syria lies in getting the Iranian regime forces and militias out and in devising a political solution acceptable to the two warring parties.

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