First Published: 2018-02-13

Israeli Raids in Syria Escalate Conflict with Iran, Effects Likely in Lebanon
Israel confirmed attacking 12 targets including four “that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria,” writes Simon Speakman Cordall.
Middle East Online

TUNIS — Massive Israeli air strikes battered Syrian and Iranian positions in Syria after an unmanned Iranian aircraft was intercepted by Israel over its territory and an Israeli fighter jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

This first direct confrontation between Iran and Israel since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011 threatened to carry serious consequences in Syria and across the region, especially for Lebanon, where the pro-Iran Hezbollah could consider moves that would ratchet up already-high tensions with Israel.

The Israeli F-16 jet was downed early February 10, Israeli officials said. Both pilots escaped but one was said to be badly wounded.

An Israeli military statement said an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launched from within Syria was intercepted in Israeli airspace by a combat helicopter. The Israeli Air Force then “targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the UAV into Israeli airspace,” a tweet from military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus stated. Israeli aircraft came under “massive” anti-aircraft fire from Syrian positions, which resulted in the downing of the jet.

Israel confirmed that it had attacked 12 other targets in Syria in response, including three air defence batteries and four installations “that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.”

In an apparent recognition of the heightened risks of any escalation, Israel’s military spokesmen said that, though Syria and Iran were “playing with fire,” Israel was “not looking to escalate the situation.”

“This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty in the last years,” Conricus said, referring to the reported UAV incursion into Israeli airspace. “That’s why our response is as severe as it is.”

With the battlefield defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS), Syria has become the theatre for a deadly escalation of rivalries between regional and world powers, with Israel joining the United States, Russia, Turkey, the Syrian regime, plus Iran and its principal Lebanese ally Hezbollah, in competing for prominence on an increasingly crowded stage.

Though this is the first direct confrontation between Israel and Iran, Israeli air strikes on positions in Syria have been a regular feature of the war. Israeli action had been restricted to what it claimed were advanced weapons stores or convoys taking materiel to Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon. However, it also sporadically struck at Syrian government facilities suspected of developing weapons that could be used against the Jewish state.

Iran has yet to respond to the Israeli strikes but tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, have been escalating. Israeli accusations of Iran-sponsored and Hezbollah-operated weapons plants in Lebanon have been growing. Israeli military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis in January accused Iran of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory.”

Further fuelling tensions between the two countries have been Israeli plans to construct a border wall on territory Beirut claims as its own and the public dispute over a gas field straddling the countries’ maritime frontiers.

Israel and Hezbollah have yet to directly engage since the ambiguous conclusion of their month-long confrontation in 2006. At that time, despite incurring heavy casualties, Hezbollah pushed Israeli forces back across the frontier.

However, since its involvement in the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah is regarded as having significantly improved its military capacity and battlefield experience, increasing the risks of a clash with Israel.

An escalation of violence in Syria would mark a serious setback for Russian plans to impose some form of peace settlement on the war-ravaged country before its March 18 elections.

Turkish forces are engaged against Syria’s Kurds in northern Syria and the United States carried out massive air strikes against Syrian forces, said to include Russian “contractors,” in oil-rich Deir ez-Zor on February 7. Elsewhere, both Russian and Syrian jets were said to be waging a war of attrition across the north-western province of Idlib and the Assad regime was pounding the Damascus suburb of east Ghouta.

How Israel’s entry into the fray may shape circumstances remains to be seen.

Simon Speakman Cordall is a section editor with The Arab Weekly.

Copyright ©2018 The Arab Weekly


Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"

Turkey releases leading pro-Kurdish politician

5 Iranian police killed in Sufi protests

Iran finds wreckage of crashed plane on top of mountain

Israel’s gas contract with Egypt: deal or no deal?

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt