What happened isn’t a transient incident, so did the rules of engagement with Israel change?
It is too early to say that an Israeli-Iranian war has started, but it is difficult to neglect the fact that this is the most dramatic development in a long time. In fact, new Israeli-Iranian tensions in Syria have become almost daily news over the past two years. The Iranians want to fill part of the vacuum they contributed to creating in Syria and they are willing to anchor their position and dominance, either directly or through their Lebanese and Iraqi militias. Meanwhile, Israel has always considered any Iranian military presence in southern Syria, either directly or through Hezbollah, as a threat to its national security. What worsened the situation was Iran’s nuclear agreement, which was fiercely opposed by Israel from the very beginning. And, lately, the Israelis have focused on two new elements: First that Iran established rocket assembling plants in Lebanese regions controlled by Hezbollah, and second that it is probable its southern borders will be subject to military operations led by Hamas, in coordination with Hezbollah.
Followers of pro-Iran media outlets can see that they keep stressing that Tehran is avoiding a direct clash with the Israeli army. This Iranian vigilance is justified, as the regime is waiting for May to know the fate of the nuclear agreement and, with the numerous military headaches facing the Iranians, they prefer to refrain from opening a new front with the Israelis.
Amid all the talk of an upcoming war between Israel and the Iranian axis, analysts note that Tel Aviv prefers to fight in Lebanon as it is the Russian president who is writing the rules on Syria.
What exacerbates the fear of escalation is the decline in the world’s ability to intervene and curb the violence. Iran feels it is free to act without control, while this is how Israel has always acted and it continues to do so. Many spend time and effort seeking an answer on the role of Russia, and whether Vladimir Putin has given a “green light” to Benjamin Netanyahu or not, one sure thing is that the US administration has become tougher but without any real plan or solution for the many wars and crises we have in the region.
Amid all the talk of an upcoming war between Israel and the Iranian axis, Israeli analysts note that Tel Aviv prefers to fight the upcoming war in Lebanon rather than Syria. This means that Israel acknowledges the fact that the Kremlin is controlling the Syrian side of its northern borders, for now at least. Russian President Putin is running the show in Syria and he is the one writing the rules. Israel can attack Syrian and Iranian targets, and even targets linked to Hezbollah, provided this doesn’t harm the regime of Bashar Assad, which is still supported by Putin.
Until now, Russia didn’t allow Iran to establish big military bases in Syria or to get close to the Israeli border in the occupied Golan Heights. But this doesn’t mean the Iranians are being asked to leave Syria, as Russia needs the Shiite militias established by Iran, such as Afghan refugees who support Assad’s army, as field fighters. Hence it allows Iran to use its drones and infiltrate Israeli airspace from time to time. As long as the Iranian forces are still useful to Russia, the latter won’t respond to Israeli requests to keep them away. In spite of this, Russia will keep a vigilant eye on the Iranians to make sure that they don’t go too far.
Under these circumstances, Israel has no other option than to accept Moscow’s rules. It will continue to prove its ability to fly over Syria and attack its targets, but it has to be more vigilant. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tried to draw some red lines to limit the influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, but it seems the maestro in Syria is currently Putin, not Netanyahu.
- Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer.