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Is war looming on the northern front of Israel?

Feb. 4, 2019 4:43 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 5, 2019 1:31 P.M.)
By: Wisam Shbib
Israel has recently admitted that it has carried out various air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Israel has changed its policy of not commenting on carrying out air strikes.It is very important to understand what is the political message that Israel wants to pass by targeting the presence of the Iranian forces in Syria, and to understand if there is a war looming, mainly after the US President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw his troops from Syria?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed Israel's stance that there is no place for the presence of Iranian forces anywhere in Syria. He said: "We stand firmly on our red lines in Syria and elsewhere ... We will not accept Iranian forces presence in Syria".

In the past, Israeli air strikes were taking the following military strategy: The Israels airstrikes launched from a military base near Lebanon, entering the Lebanese airspace at low altitude, so as not to be detected by Syria’s and its allies’ radars, using cruise missiles. Israeli air forces targeted the fourth division of the Syrian forces, Hezbollah forces and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

It is known, according to the course of Israeli military operations, that when the Israeli army wants to pass a painful strike to one of its neighbors it will not assign the task to land units nor naval units; rather, it will assign it to air force units. The costs are low and the results are quick. "We will not allow the Iranian presence to be established in Syria, and we will not allow all of Syria to be turned into a front line against Israel," said the former Israeli security minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The main objective of Israeli military operations against Syria is to prevent pro-Iranian forces from establishing a military presence near the Israeli borders. The Israeli army's strategy is driven by three main factors of the Iranian presence in Syria:

• First, Israel does not seem fully convinced with Trump's intention to confront Iran in Syria, especially after Trump has declared his intention to withdraw his forces from Syria.

• Second, the strategy of opposing the Iranian military presence in Syria strongly opposes the Sunni Arab bloc in the region, and Israel can draw on Tehran's other opponents in the region. These emerging relationships, which were described by Netanyahu as the silver terms of the "bad" Iranian agreement, are very important for Israel, in part because the Jewish state will need help from its regional neighbors if it wants to go in a war against Iran.

• Third, the Israeli security establishment has a firm belief that Iran's "expansionist" policy knows no borders and that the Islamic Republic revolves around creating an "evil empire" in the Middle East.

Russia has recently delivered the S-300 long range missile defense system; the S-300 is capable of engaging aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, in addition to providing some cruise and ballistic missile defense capabilities.

Moscow has supplied Damascus with three S-300 air defense systems, each with eight launch pads, bringing the total number of S-300 launch platforms to 24.The range of the S-300 missile is between 150 and 250 km depending on the type of rocket. The system is, also, capable of dropping 24 hostile aircraft at one time, in addition to 16 ballistic missiles.

On the 21st of January 2019, Israeli air strikes on Syria adapted a different strategy by entering the Syrian air space targeting Iranian military presence in Syria. Although Moscow has supplied Damascus with three S-300 air defense systems, it (Moscow) didn’t run it. This was a clear message from Moscow to Tehran that the Iranian presence in Syria is unacceptable.

Hasan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Hezbollah, has recently stressed Hezbollah's stance of bombing Tel Aviv and storming northern Israel if Syria was raided again. This political speech is a local political consumption.

On the military and political front, I do not see that a war will loom soon on the northern front of Israel. The costs will be high and the benefits will be low for Iran, Hezbollah and Israel. Iran's economy is expected to deteriorate further as Washington escalates sanctions after Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, also the costs will be high for Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. It is noteworthy that Netanyahu's political stance is weak in Israel due to the accusations of corruption.

The sum up is that Moscow has sent a direct message to Tehran that the Iranian presence is not welcomed, especially after not running the S-300 air defense in Syria, and that Israel has sent a direct political message to Tehran that there should be no Iranian military presence near any of the borders of Israel.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.

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