Israeli forces have shifted from a doctrine of “war by stealth” to openly declared aggression on its northern neighbor Syria. For two straight days, the Israelis bombarded Syria’s capital Damascus and its environs with dozens of air-launched cruise missiles. Many of the projectiles were reportedly intercepted by Russian-supplied air defense systems.
Nevertheless the Israeli blitzkrieg resulted in at least four Syrian military personnel being killed and damage to the civilian international airport near Damascus. That amounts to an outrageous war crime, as have countless air strikes carried out previously by Israel on Syria. Shamefully, the United Nations and Western governments maintain a hypocritical silence, while slapping sanctions on Syria, Russia and Iran over various alleged “transgressions”.
But what’s remarkable about the latest Israeli aggression is the public acknowledgement by the government in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while on an African tour at the weekend, openly acknowledged the Israeli air strikes, as did the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
“We have a set policy, to target the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and to harm whoever tried to harm us,” said Netanyahu on a visit to Chad.
In a statement, the IDF said: “We have started striking Iranian Quds [Revolutionary Guards] targets in Syrian territory. We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory.”
Earlier this month, Netanyahu bragged to his cabinet members in televised comments about the “success” of repeated air strikes on Syria purportedly against Iranian targets.
That was also around the same time the outgoing IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot boasted to Western media about “running a bombing campaign” against Syria with “thousands of strikes” over recent years on an almost daily basis.
One of those air strikes last September resulted in the death of 15 Russian aircrew when their IL-20 surveillance plane was mistakenly shot down by Syrian air defenses in what appeared to be a deliberate aerial trap set up by Israeli fighter jets. The incident sparked outrage in Moscow which then promptly delivered upgraded S-300 air defense systems to Syria. Those air defense systems may account for the successful interception of dozens of Israeli missiles in the latest barrage.
This change in Israeli policy from habitually issuing “no comment” responses after air strikes are reported in Syria to one where senior government figures are publicly exulting in the conduct of attacks is an extraordinary development.
Some observers have pointed out that it could be Netanyahu engaging in electioneering. He is seeking re-election in April and so may be playing the “tough guy” image to bolster his national security credentials among voters.
That may partly be the calculus. But there does appear also to be a bigger shift going in Israeli military strategy towards Syria and Iran.
No doubt the announced withdrawal of US troops from Syria by President Trump has thrown the various regional players into flux. Russia has emerged as the dominant military force in Syria and possibly the wider region due to its masterstroke of intervening in Syria to thwart the country’s foreign enemies waging their regime-change operation.
Of course, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has emerged too with renewed confidence and respect in the region for its formidable defense. Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah have also gained immense kudos in helping the Arab country defeat the US-NATO-Israeli-Saudi axis and their terrorist proxy army.
Israeli paranoia over Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria has seen the Israelis lobbying Moscow to put limits on Iranian forces. Last month, Russian military officials were reportedly in Israel for discussions with Israeli counterparts. It is believed part of those talks – described as “tense” – were appeals by the Israelis to Russia to give guarantees about what they called “Iranian expansionism”. It appears that Moscow was not obliging.
In this context of flux, it seems that Israel is trying to desperately assert its influence over political and military developments in Syria that are viewed by the Israelis as negative. In trying to salvage its interests in the failed covert war for regime change in Syria, the Israelis are openly adopting criminal aggression with a hubris that is out of control.
The public admission of daily air strikes by Israeli leaders on Syria is an admission of war crimes. The strikes are wanton aggression and violation of international law. They can be in no way justified as “defensive” against “threats”.
Iranian and Hezbollah forces are in Syria legally at the request of the Damascus government, as are Russian military. Just because the Israelis have a paranoid obsession about Iran and Hezbollah does not give them any legal grounds to launch air strikes on Syria.
In the latest escalation it is openly admitted by the Israelis that they launched the missiles first. On Sunday morning, Israel attacked Damascus and southern Syria supposedly against “Iranian targets”.
Later, on Sunday afternoon, the Iranian forces fired a medium-range rocket from near Damascus aimed for Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense reportedly intercepted it successfully with no casualties among Israeli tourist skiers on the holiday resort slopes of Mount Hermon.
Then in the early hours of Monday, the Israelis launched more cruise missiles on Damascus. Syrian air defenses were warned by the Israeli’s to “hold fire”. When the Syrian air defense neutralized many of the incoming warheads, the Israelis turned around to target the Syrian army. Four Syrian military personnel were reportedly killed.
Evidently, even according to Israeli official accounts, it is the Israelis who are engaging in unwarranted first strikes. Their supposed “retaliation” to the Iran rocket on the Golan Heights is an oxymoron. Even more absurd, the Syrians are warned not to activate air defense systems while their country is being attacked. When Syria defends itself, its troops are then killed by enemy air strikes.
And let’s not forget, the Golan Heights are internationally recognized as Syrian territory which Israel annexed and has been illegally occupying since the 1967 Six Day War. Again, the Western hypocrisy is exposed with no sanctions on Israel, but Russia is being sanctioned for allegedly annexing Crimea in 2014.
Iran’s air force commander responded to the latest events, saying his nation was “ready for a war that will destroy the state of Israel”. Such a war could drag in the US and Russia – and lead to nuclear weapons being deployed. The Israeli regime with its 200-300 nuclear warheads is certainly criminally arrogant enough.
Israel’s reckless flouting of international law and its taunting of enemies may be just the kind of hubris that precedes a catastrophic fall.