World Jewish News
Has Israel stopped striking Syria to appease Putin before his visit?
17.12.2019, Israel and the World
It’s been almost one month since Israel was accused of carrying out airstrikes against Iranian targets in war-torn Syria, and it’s one month before Russian President Vladimir Putin will touch down in the Jewish state.
Israel has been carrying out a war-between-wars campaign since 2013, striking thousands of Iranian and Hezbollah targets in an attempt to prevent Tehran and its proxies from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and from entrenching themselves in Syria. According to foreign reports, IAF jets have also carried out strikes in neighboring Iraq.
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 on the side President Bashar Assad, and Israel and Russia have been using a deconfliction mechanism in place over Syria, in order to avoid any unwanted conflict.
Is it possible that Israel paused its campaign ahead of Putin’s visit? Is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worried that the deconfliction mechanism has run out of luck similar to what happened with the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 that was shot down over Syria during an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets?
That incident marked one of the lowest points of the relationship between the two countries. But no jet has been shot down since, and no Russian lives have been lost during Israeli strikes.
So what’s happening?
The relationship between the two regional powers has been tense since the last airstrike claimed by Israel on November 20. During that airstrike, Israeli jets targeted over 20 Iranian and Syrian sites, including warehouses and command centers, in response to four rockets being fired towards Israel’s Golan Heights the previous morning.
But following the strike, Russia’s Foreign Ministry made a rare announcement chastising the intensity of Israeli airstrikes in Syria, which they claimed have “sharply” increased, and add tension and raise the potential for conflict in the war-torn country. Moscow accused Israel of violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and of other states in the region, and stated that “such developments are of the most serious concern and are rejected by Moscow.
“Israeli actions add tension and increase the conflict potential of the situation around Syria, and are contrary to efforts to normalize the situation and achieve stability in Syria including a political settlement in this country,” read the statement released at the time.
Two weeks later in early December, Netanyahu held a phone-call with the Russian strongman where the two leaders discussed Syria.
Two days later, according to foreign reports, Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets were scrambled from Khmeimim airbase in Latakia to stop Israeli jets from striking the T-4 military base in the Syrian province of Homs, a site which has been targeted multiple times by the Jewish state.
While the IDF does not comment on foreign reports, Israel’s deconfliction mechanism should have alerted the Russians to Israeli activity. Did Israel not inform the Russians? Were they heading to an area which may have put Russians lives or interests at risk? According to a former senior IAF officer, it’s all about Russian interests.
“Russians don’t care about anyone. Today we are talking about interests, and the main Russian interest is to be a relevant superpower and competitor against the Americans,” he said. “Wherever the US withdraws troops and budget from the region, we will find Russia trying to control and manage between states and groups.
“We could be in the middle of the Second Cold War with Russia,” the former senior officer said.
That Second Cold War, which is playing out not only in the Middle East but across Eastern Europe and Asia, will need Israel to walk a very thin tightrope if it wants to remain the top dog in the region.
If not, the freedom of operation by Israeli jets may now be at risk on its most volatile fronts.
By ANNA AHRONHEIM