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Exclusive - Latest Israeli Strikes on Syria Hold New Ramifications

Exclusive - Latest Israeli Strikes on Syria Hold New Ramifications

Tuesday, 22 January, 2019 - 10:00
Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria. (Reuters)
London - Ibrahim Hamidi
The Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria has been brought out into the open in wake of Israel's strikes on the Damascus countryside overnight on Sunday and Monday.

Israel first acknowledged to have struck Syrian targets back in January 2013. It often rarely admits to such attacks, which it says are aimed at countering Iranian military entrenchment in the country.

Monday's admission of the strikes near Damascus, which were prompted by Iranian missile fire at a Golan Heights ski resort, represent a turning point in the confrontation between Tel Aviv and Tehran in Syria.

The strikes, the fiercest since 2013, seek to impose “new rules of engagement” on the ground. Below are nine reasons that make the latest attacks different than their predecessors:

1- Israeli admission: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the strikes targeted Iranian targets in Syria after Tehran had launched a missile at Israel. “We will not allow such hostile acts. We are working against Iran and Syrian forces that are tools for Iranian aggression,” he remarked.

A week earlier, Netanyahu had also acknowledged another attack on Iranian positions in Syria, saying that Tel Aviv has achieved major successes in hindering Iranian entrenchment in the neighboring country. It is believed that the premier’s repeated declaration of strikes is linked to boosting his image ahead of upcoming elections in April.

2- US withdrawal: The Israeli strikes are a sign that in wake of the US decision to pull out its troops from Syria, it will continue to impose “red lines” against Iran’s entrenchment and its delivery of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. American officials have voiced their determination to continue providing support to “ensure Israel’s security.” This issue was discussed during US national security adviser John Boltion’s visit to Israel on January 7.

3- Syrian response: Damascus had previously refused to comment on such air strikes, but this week the Syrian state news agency SANA said that regime defenses had responded to the Israeli strikes overnight on Sunday. It said that Israel carried out its strikes from over Lebanese and occupied Palestinian territories. The defenses managed to shoot town dozens of hostile targets, it said, adding that Israel “failed in achieving any of its goals.”

4- Russian stance: Moscow has also chosen to break its silence. Its defense ministry Monday said that the Israeli strikes left four Syrian forces dead and wounded six others. It also said that the Syrian defenses shot down 30 missiles, acknowledging some damage to Damascus International Airport.

5- Russian-Israeli coordination: The strikes took place after Russian-Israeli talks in Tel Aviv last week. An Israeli military spokesman said that the meetings covered Israeli operations against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and its arms deliveries to Hezbollah. The two sides reached understandings and agreed on maintaining joint work.

Israeli sources said that the talks signify the end of the crisis between Tel Aviv and Moscow that was sparked in September by the downing of a Russian surveillance jet by regime defenses when Israel was carrying out raids against its neighbor.

6- Iran’s announcement: Chief of Iran's air force, General Aziz Nassirzadeh, said Monday his forces are "ready for a fight against the Zionist regime to wipe it off the Earth.” He said that Israel would not dare launch an attack against Iran and that his forces were prepared for the day to destroy it.

7- Syrian military attacked: An Israeli military spokesman Avichai Adraee tweeted that the army will continue its “strong and firm” efforts to counter Iranian entrenchment in Syria. “We hold the Syrian regime responsible for the developments on its territories and warn it against permitting any act against us,” he said. Moreover, he revealed that Israel targeted Iranian Quds Force positions in Syria on early Monday. He identified them as weapons depots in Damascus airport, as well as Iranian intelligence and military training positions.

8- Regional dimensions: The raids coincided with Netanyahu’s announcement Sunday that Israel had restored diplomatic ties with Chad. They also took place as Beirut was hosting an Arab economic summit that was largely skipped by top leaders and as Lebanese parties continue to bicker over forming a long overdue new government.

9- Disengagement: The Israeli strikes and Russia’s response raise questions about the fate of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement in the occupied Golan Heights. Russia had succeeded in 2018 in reactivating the deal and it deployed United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights. Afterwards, the regime recaptured territories in the South and Southwest.

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