Israel bombs Syria: how long can this go on?

By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia believe the war on terror has priority over and above any Israeli provocations. Syria and Russia are of necessity avoiding a ‘battle between wars’, a term used by Israel to sneak in and hit-and-run an enemy target not sufficiently important to trigger an all-out war. Eliminating jihadists on the Aleppo-Idlib front is far more critical to Syria than responding to Israeli attacks on the Syrian army’s military capability and its destruction of military warehouses. Israel’s military command understands Syria’s priorities and is taking advantage of the situation. It has carried out hundreds of attacks in Syria on various targets in different Syrian cities, without changing the balance of forces and capabilities. But stopping Israel’s arrogant violations of Syrian sovereignty will become an easy task when Damascus is ready to direct its guns towards Israel.

In fact, despite over 400 Israeli attacks on Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011, the Syrian army has now liberated most of Syria, with the exception of the north, occupied by Turkish and US forces. The Syrian army has moved north, knocking at the gates of Idlib for a month. Israeli attacks have not undermined a Syrian army that has shown its competence in fierce battles at Ghouta (east of Damascus), in Deir-ezzour (north-east) and in the north, clearing a large security perimeter around Aleppo.

IDF doctrine consists of specialisation and study of military affairs but does not rely on battlefield experience. Iran and its allies heavily rely on experience, education, training and creatively renewing their military doctrine. 

In battle after battle, the Syrian army has demonstrated successful combat experience, obvious superiority in the battlefield, intense firepower clearing the road for the infantry prior to any attack, efficient military planning, use of advanced military equipment and skilful coordination with its partners and the Russian army. The Syrian army and its allies have defeated ISIS in most parts of Syria. Only in the north-east did US forces play a role in defeating ISIS; the US did not allow Damascus’s forces to cross the Euphrates river. 

The Syrian army also defeated al-Qaeda, its many highly trained, well-equipped and ideologically motivated foreign fighters, and all the other jihadist groups fighting under different names, mixed with local Syrians (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ansar al-Sharia, Ahrar al-Sham et al.). The US forces did not engage in any battle against al-Qaeda and the other jihadist groups in Syria but limited itself to targeted assassinations via drones. It was left to the Syrian army and its allies to eliminate al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies in Syria.

Israel has never fought protracted wars, while Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have lived years of war and confronted all kinds of enemies using diverse tactics. Syria, Iran and its allies have fought in the mountains, open spaces, urban warfare, special operations behind enemy lines- and confronted more than one enemy at the time. This experience is invaluable and unmatched

Iran brought to Syria ballistic and cruise missiles along with the adequate technology to manufacture them locally. Israel believes it has destroyed many of these precision missiles, as is likely. But Israel did not manage to deprive Syria of all its precision missiles, it has destroyed only replaceable missiles and armed drones. 

Israeli missile intercepted over Damascus

Israeli military doctrine relies mainly on an air force that proved its limited effectiveness in the last Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. But its Air Force is easily countered: according to a high-ranking source within the “Axis of the Resistance”, a simple Rule of Engagement can ground the Israeli air force forever. Following any Israeli air attack, Syria and its allies will face it, in due course, with precision ballistic and cruise missiles with high explosive warheads, enough to intimidate Israel and create a balance between missile launching and air attack.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yaldin, director of INSS, has stated in his yearly assessment that the probability of war is increasing. But the “Axis of the Resistance” believes war is highly unlikely because all parties are well armed and can damage each other significantly. The Israel domestic front is fragile and not accustomed to massive bombing from ballistic missiles with over 700 kg of explosive, and cruise missiles hitting multiple selective targets with precision. Although precision missiles reduce civilian casualties when fired against military targets, they can be launched against highly sensitive objectives if necessary. Israel no longer has the exclusivity of damaging neighbouring countries. For the moment, Israel is taking advantage of Syria’s concentration of its military effort on jihadists to bomb Syria without suffering significant retaliation. When the time comes and the Syrian north is liberated, Syrian retaliation will be forthcoming.

The Russian presence in the Levant will very likely stop any possibility of the conflict becoming a major war in the region. President Putin is not President Dimitry Medvedev, who in 2011 gave NATO a free hand to destroy Libya. Israel and Russia enjoy good ties, but Russia will not allow an Israeli-Syrian war to spoil its plans to impose stability in the region. 

Already Russia has suffered from Israeli attacks and blamed Tel Aviv for downing its Ilyushin IL-20 with 15 officers onboard in September 2018. In response, Russia supplied Syria with S-300 missiles. Moreover, recent reports indicate that Russian Su-35s have pursued Israeli aircraft and forced them to leave Syrian airspace. 

An agreement was reached between Israel and Russia whereby no Israeli jet would violate Syrian airspace, at the risk of being downed. Russia is in control of the entire air space over Syria with the exception of the east of the Euphrates river. This is why Israel violated Iraqi airspace when it bombed targets (Althiyas Military airbase, also known as T4) east of Homs under cover of the US military bases in Iraq and the occupied north-east of Syria. Otherwise, it bombs targets in Syria when flying above the occupied Golan Heights or Lebanon. Moreover, Russia demands that Israel inform it in advance of any attack so as to avoid being caught in the crossfire, warn its partners in Syria to avert severe casualties, and remove sensitive weapons from their caches. 

Iran is continuously arming Syria and its allies in the Levant. Israel is mindful of this and can do very little to stop it. Israel is also aware that its attacks over Syria will come to an end when Syria liberates its territory. It is to Israel’s advantage to cease its electoral show and bomb non-strategic targets. The Iranian presence in Syria is a fact that neither the US, Russia or Israel can alter. Syria needs a country like Iran to stand against the US hegemony and defend the country when necessary. Iran has expressed its deep relationship with Syria over the nine years of war and showed its readiness to stand up to the US when needed, as in the attack on the US military base in Ayn al-Assad. The time will come when Israel will no longer be able to use its air, sea and infantry forces freely against Syria. Precision missiles have changed the balance of power and are imposing radically new rules of engagement.

Proofread by: Maurice Brasher and C.G.B.

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