By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
20 October 2017
A few days ago, Israeli jets violated the Lebanese airspace (not the usual “routine recognition flight” as claimed by Israel’s official spokesperson), with the aim of bombing a Hezbollah convoy (as usual, trucks loaded with weapons) heading from Syria towards Lebanon, according to a well-informed source. The Syrian Army fired a ground to air missile, an old SA-5 (S-200) against the Israeli jets over the sky of Lebanon, to divert attention from the moving target. This Syrian act represented a direct threat – felt by the Israeli command – to the Israeli jets who managed to shoot the missile down. The Israeli Air Force ordered the jets to return to base for evaluation. One hour later, Tel Aviv ordered Israeli jets to fly over the occupied Golan Heights and target the static Syrian military position as retaliation, disregarding the Hezbollah convoy.
The Syrian Command did not decide within minutes of their presence to target the Israeli jets over Lebanon that particular day. That decision had been made during a meeting of the Syrian, Hezbollah and Iranian leadership to agree on progressive measures against Israel to make it understand the message. 10 days ago or more, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired upon Israeli jets violating Syrian air space. Days later, Syria shot down an Israeli drone. Last but not least, Syria launched an SA-5 (removed from service by Russia decades ago) against the Israeli jets.
Hezbollah has used this style (which can be called “snowballing”) in every battle or war with Israel to avoid burning bridges and to test the enemy’s reaction. So today, this same style is implemented in Syria where Hezbollah’s experience is not only increasing but is also accessible and integrated with the Syrian High Command. To fight Israel, the frontier barriers between Lebanon and Syria have been lifted- probably for good.
The first message is obvious: in any new confrontation or war between Hezbollah and Israel – said the source –, the sky over Lebanon and the borders with Israel and Syria will form one single front. The second message – and the most important one – is tells Israel that the Syrian Army is on a high about its victory: Russia secured deconfliction and de-escalation zones, al-Qaeda is contained for the moment, and ISIS (the “Islamic State” group) is left with a minute amount of territory, surrounded in the north-east along the Syrian-Iraqi borders.
At the moment, the powers of the Syrian army appear almost unlimited, with over 200,000 men (army, national forces and allies included) who are mostly well-trained and experienced fighters. These will certainly allow Damascus, after 6 years of devastating war, to engage when necessary against Israel in any future battle regardless of the consequences. Syria is determine to free the occupied Golan Heights and will stand next to Hezbollah – and vice versa – in any future war.
Russia has announced that it has updated the Syrian air defence system. The message reaches Israel that this system may come into use at any time, at Syrian discretion. Russia also stressed that it was not interfering in any Syrian-Israeli war and therefore (with a subtle mixed message!) would not mind if Damascus used Russian missiles to defend itself, in the same way Israel does against Syria and Hezbollah under the title of “self-defence and national security.”
As for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he is confident of the effect of the Russian presence to preserve the unity of Syria, and trusts that Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have stood with him during the war will help him recover the entire Syrian territory. Assad eagerly awaits the moment he will stand by the “axis of the resistance”(which he is part of) if threatened. What Assad did in 2006 by opening his weapon stores to Hezbollah can now be seen as a small gesture belonging to the past: in the next battle with Israel, Assad will engage the entire Syrian army as part of the battle, to fight the war side by side with Hezbollah (Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah).
As for Israel, it will continue to try to keep to the algorithm of “open skies” and try to eliminate the very existence of separate Lebanese airspace. Syria will maintain in readiness its decision to strike Israeli jets (when these are within the reach of the Syrian air defence system), and will engage with these jets even if the likelihood of shooting them down is weak.
The decision has been taken: if it comes to war, Syria and Lebanon will wage full-scale, all-out war against Israel. This is a political and military decision arising from the Syrian leadership and its allies. This decision reflects Damascus’s unwillingness to give the left cheek to Israel (as it has done in the past) whenever it breaches the security of Syria and makes its land and its air space vulnerable, including the Lebanese air space that is now part of the balance. Israel, for its part, considers that any future war against Hezbollah will include the entire Lebanon and Syria with all its allied forces operating in the Levant. But Syria is in a good state not seen for more than six years and therefore can realistically and explicitly consider any threat to Lebanon to be a threat against Damascus.
Israel understood the new rules of engagement and fired its rockets from inside the occupied territories of the Golan Heights,not from the Syrian or the Lebanese skies. That does not mean Israel will not try again, but now its leaders know that the “promenade” is over. Thus Israel immediately declared it had “no interested in escalating,” following the Syrian missile launching.
This also indicates that Israel is not ready. This is not only because of the unpreparedness of the internal front and Hezbollah’s accumulated warfare experience in Syria, and the overt presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria (which became known for its operational presence with its modern armed drones and ground forces), but because Donald Trump is unwilling to engage in any war in the Middle East: neither on behalf of the Kurds (for their independence) nor for the Arabs and Israel (who desperately want to see Iran and Hezbollah defeated).
The old war in Syria is nearing completion after long six years, and with it comes a new equation and difficult days for Israel. Tel Aviv will continue screaming loudly against Iran and Hezbollah. But its actions will be limited to security operations and sporadic strikes, because there are those who have their finger on the trigger, ready to retaliate and gathering more strength. Certainly, when Nasrallah said “there are hundreds of thousands men waiting to fight Israel if war is waged”, he knew he had reached a united front with Syria and all its allies willing fight together as one body. Certainly Assad and Nasrallah will aim to recover the Syrian and Lebanese territories under Israeli occupation: they now increasingly have the means.