Israel's Deadly 'War Games' Over The Syrian Airspace

Published October 12th, 2021 - 08:04 GMT
Israeli strikes over Damascus
Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike targeting south of Damascus, Syria, on July 20, 2020 (AFP)

Cynically Syria is Israel’s target practice shoot. It has been this way certainly from 2011 when the beleaguered Arab Spring and consequent civil war engulfed the country. 

It would be wrong to assume that Israel is a bystander in the Syrian conflict as it has always claimed. She is a major clandestine power with regards to Damascus, standing alongside other interventionist states like Iran, Russia, United States, Turkey and of course a whole host of other non-state actors like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and ISIS among the motley many.

One would have asked himself just why would Israel want to be in bed with all these other states and terror organizations? It’s a complicated question that definitely requires dwelling on.

Israel’s presence in Syria is not “on-ground” as it is with the other powers and forces for it regards the country, starting from its south to Damascus and upwards to Aleppo and more as its “air space” to do with it what it will. And hence Israel uses the country from the air as target practice board. What this means, and according to different mediums and media reports, it has been launching hundreds of strikes over different cities in the country in the course of the last decades.

Israel has refused to confirm these attacks but occasionally there has been those in the Jewish army and its military generals who did confirm the missile strikes and bombings over Syria as stated by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. He said in 2020 Israeli warplanes hit 500 targets in addition to multiple clandestine missions. In terms of the trajectories, it can be imagined these would be in the thousands, but Kochavi prefers to keep tight lipped about that.

However, from the tone of the interview it was clear that he was not only talking about Syria alone but the whole of the Middle East region. Imagine Israel “gun-trotting” in our neck of the woods with us non-the-wiser! But leaving that aside despite the fact it’s a very dangerous development and points to the risks Israel is willing to take, Jewish leaders have been focusing on Syria as if it were its own backyard without compunction and without one iota to the regime back there.

There is hardly a day and a week that goes by without reported strikes being made on a Syrian province or a city starting with Damascus to Homs in the west and backwards Deir Al Zor, Mayadeen and Bukamal in the north-eastern side of the border with Iraq. It’s a jigsaw of military activity not of course to mention striking the Syrian military bases, its defenses and airports that are frequently targeted like the Syria’s T4 base near Homs.

Israel has always maintained it will continue to strike targets in Syria as long as Iranian forces and Hizbollah militiamen continue to operate in the country. Iran and by extension Hizbollah must therefore leave because they pose a threat to the national security of the Jewish state according to her perception.

Iran and its proxy ally expanded in Damascus because the Bashar Al Assad’s Baath government was in danger of collapsing after 2011, a situation that became precarious as opposition and Islamist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS gained the upper hand. It was only through Russian intervention in 2015 the regime was bolstered. Now, Assad has three parties on his side: Moscow, Tehran and Hizbollah all actively helping him materially through weapons and manpower.

This has rattled the Israelis for the last two are openly hostile to the Jewish state and stand steadfast against it. Their presence in Syria is today an open threat to it regardless of the actual intentions played out because in the end it is perception that matters; it is also more fearful because it controls the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory which Israel wants to forcefully continue to occupy.

So what can indeed be argued is the continuing strikes that begun at the beginning 2013 gained momentum as the years wore on because it shows power and muscle-flexing for Israel. According to one official in the “Aman” intelligence division of the Israeli army and as quoted in Ashraq Alawsat the first hit was at a truck outside a Syrian Scientific Research Center and when there was no retaliation, air raids, sorties and bombing began to be carried out frequently with Israeli jets violating Syrian airspace through crossing over Lebanon, a country that frequently complained to the UN but to no avail.

Today Israel is still hell-bent on fighting the presence of Iranian forces in the country as stated by the current Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He said he will never “tolerate” the existence of Iran on Syrian territory either in the short-term or in the long-term but he was uttering past policies by former Israeli governments.

However, he is prepared to work with the Russians to make sure things don’t get out of hand which was the case when Benjamin Netanyahu when he was the Israeli prime minister. Lapid argues, and although strikes at specific targets in Syria would continue, he would work with what he seems as the “Russian partners” – an odd term to use - to make sure there would be no “dangerous escalation”.

Russia and Israel has placed what they term a “deconfliction mechanism” to increase communication between them and avoid conflict. It is said this has been successful generally but there was the case of the dawning of a Russian military plane in 2018. It was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft batteries as it responded to incoming Israeli missiles. If the Russians were angry, they didn’t show it, for they apparently like to keep the lines of communications open. From time to time, they however like to impress on the Israelis to watch what they are doing. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeated if Israel has security concerns it should share the information with Moscow so that it can “neutralize” the suspected threats according to The Times of Israel.

How true is this may be difficult to ascertain. However, it is well-known by the frequency of the strikes, Israel likes to do things on her own. Take for example the recent attack on the T4 Airport in the Homs countryside. Reports vary according to who you are looking at but it is suggested Syrian Air Defenses thwarted most of the volley of rockets but six soldiers were injured.

The frequency of attacks was also apparent according to reports in September, August, July and the previous months were Israeli warplanes would hit different places in Syria and fly their way back at a limited military momentum. The damage for the most part would be limited but at times, Israeli jets would take part in actual fighting with aim to kill as the case of the 12 January 2021 fight over eastern Syria.

Israeli fighters attacked 18 positions that killed 10 Syrian soldiers and 47 pro-Iranian militia fighters on the border with Iraq. It appeared in that fight Israeli coordinated its military actions with the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo towards the end of the Trump administration.

What all this points to is there is a large degree of coordination between Israel and the other powers – namely the Americans and Russians - over Syria; and despite the fact that Israeli might like to act in its own, its generals and military men are careful not to overstep its capabilities over what it can achieve. Over Syria there is a “balance of terror” and there is an agreement on that and there appears to be a certain amount of tolerance over that especially from the Russians and probably Iranians who exercise self-restraint. 

Unfortunately, it is the Syrians who suffer in the end because of Israeli military actions but it is nearly always contained. This is the sad play of international politics. For it appears as well, the restraint, including that exercised by the Syrian regime and its military, is designed to placate Israel from widening the area of conflict.

In the end however, Israeli warplanes will just continue to fly over Syria and bomb it.

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