Israel-Iran, the other war in Syria

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — If the war between Bashar al-Assad and his opponents is about to end in Syria , after eight years of a devastating conflict that has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions, and that the organization State Islamic lost its self-proclaimed caliphate in 2014 straddling Iraq and Syria, another war currently intensifying in the Levant. It pits the Israeli Air Force against al-Quds forces, the fighters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ outer wing. And has just experienced a new twist, reports Le Point.

The Hebrew state carried out on the night of Sunday to Monday a series of air raids targeting several strategic sites of the Pasdaran in Syria, killing twenty-one combatants, including twelve Iranians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a NGOs with a vast network of sources on the ground.

“Aviation struck a heavy blow last night against Iranian targets in Syria after Iran fired a missile there from Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday at the inauguration of ‘a new airport near the Red Sea. “We do not let pass such acts of aggression nor the efforts of Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria.”

Firmness after worry

A firmness that contrasts with the concern that aroused in Israel the surprise announcement a month ago of Donald Trump to withdraw his 2,000 special forces from Syria , opening a boulevard to the Islamic Republic and his Shiite militias. “Anyone wondering if Israel would react against Iran after Donald Trump’s statements have their answer,” said a diplomatic source.

According to the Israeli army, the escalation started on Sunday. On a video posted online by the IDF’s Twitter account, Israeli holidaymakers are seen skiing on the slopes of Mount Hermon, at an Israeli winter sports resort located in the Golan Heights annexed by Israel. They are suddenly surprised by a luminous trail in the sky, then a second. For the IDF, it is an “Iranian-made missile, operated by Iranian soldiers”, which has been “intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.”

Contrary to its habits – Israel rarely comments on its military operations outside its borders – the Israeli army then takes care to inform with precision, and in real time on Twitter, its response. Supporting photos, the IDF publishes the names of all the sites attributed to the Revolutionary Guards it struck in Syria: ammunition storage sites, a military base located at Damascus international airport, a site of the Iranian intelligence, as well as a military training camp in Tehran.

“The missile launched at Israel was launched from an area where the Russians had promised us that there would be no Iranian military force. However, it was the Pasdarans themselves who fired the device,” said a diplomatic source.

“The Syrians were warned in real time so that they understood that it was not they, but the Iranians, who were targeted, and that if they did not return to the exchange, they would not be attacked. The effect does not seem to have been a deterrent. Shortly thereafter, the IDF’s Twitter feed posted a video in which the Israeli air force is seen destroying a Damascus air defense battery targeting it.

But the course of events diverges completely if we refer to the version of Russia, which is, with Iran, one of the main allies of the Syrian regime. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, quoted by the official Sputnik news agency , it was the Israeli air force which started hostilities, which Moscow claimed killed four on the side of the Syrian army.

According to the National Management Center of the Russian Defense Ministry, the IDF carried out its first raid on Sunday morning, repulsed by the Syrian air defense (of Russian manufacture), which “shot down seven missiles in the south of Syria”. (The Iranian missile was fired on Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m., note).

Also according to Moscow, a second Israeli attack was carried out the following night, the Syrian DCA, destroying this time “more than 30 cruise missiles and guided aerial bombs”. For its part, the official Syrian news agency Sana said it had neutralized “dozens of enemy targets”, diffusing to support its statements the images of huge explosions which illuminated Sunday the Damascene night, testifying according to it of the entry in action for Syrian air defense. These claims have not been confirmed by the IDF.

However, Russia has yet to react unduly to the new Israeli attack in Syria. September 17, a serious incident had opposed the two countries, when the incursion into Syria of The Israeli air force had launched retaliatory fire from the Syrian DCA, which had shot down a Russian military aircraft with fifteen passengers on board. Moscow therefore agreed to deliver its more advanced S-300 missile system to Damascus, making the IDF’s task in Syria more difficult. Since then, the Israeli army has significantly reduced its operations against Iran in Syria.

First foreign country to rescue Bashar al-Assad, then shaken by a popular revolt in the spring of 2011, Iran dispatched hundreds of military “advisers” (members of the Revolutionary Guards) and thousands of Shiite fighters to Syria (Lebanese Hezbollah members, Afghan, Iraqi or Pakistani militiamen) to fight the Syrian rebellion and save the Syrian president. “Iran arrived in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government, and therefore remains legal, unlike Israel, which violates the airspace of a sovereign country,” says Le Point, Hamzeh Safavi, professor of political science at the University of Tehran. Main support of the Syrian regime on the ground (Russia operating above all in the air, editor’s note), the Islamic Republic took the opportunity to settle in Syria. “Iran’s primary objective is to create a transit route, rail and road, to transport its oil and electricity from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea”, continues the researcher, also director of the Institute for future studies of the Islamic world (IIWFS).

But this Iranian presence at the gates of Israel is a casus belli for Tel Aviv, especially since Iran took advantage of the Syrian conflict to establish bases in Syria and transfer precision missiles to its Hezbollah ally, united with him by his opposition to Israel. “Bashar al-Assad owes its survival to actors whose primary interest is the conflict with Israel,” said an Israeli diplomat. “Hezbollah has ceased to be in our eyes a Lebanese militia to become an Iranian instrument,” he continues. “The problem is that these two players are taking advantage of Bashar al-Assad’s current weakness to blur the border between Lebanon and Syria. For us, the great strategic danger is the opening of a second front in Syria in addition to that in Lebanon.”

“Eliminate the Zionist regime”

A veritable “red line for Israel”, the risk of a lasting Iranian settlement in Syria has pushed the Hebrew State to target “thousands of Iranian and Hezbollah targets” in Syria since January 2013, according to the Chief of Staff outgoing Israeli, Gadi Eisenkot. However, if these strikes, which left dozens of deaths, were not commented on in the past, for risk of reprisals, they are now “over-publicized”. Thus, the Israeli Prime Minister, campaigning for his re-election as head of government during the legislative elections on April 9, despite his legal setbacks, he stressed on Twitter on Monday that he would not ignore…

“Today, the two countries are fighting directly against each other in Syria,” said Hamzeh Safavi, a scholar well versed in Iranian activities in the Levant.

“But, while Israel is counting on very exaggerated media coverage of its strikes to better justify its offensives in the eyes of the world according to its supposed preventive doctrine, Iran prefers to remain silent and send messages to the Israelis: it will no longer tolerate to be unilaterally attacked by Israel without responding.”

On Monday, Tehran sent a brief response to the Israeli warnings. In a statement to the Young Journalists Club, a site owned by state television, Rigger-General Cadet Aziz Nasirzadeh, the man at the head of the Iranian Air Force, thundered: “Youth in the Air Force is ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth.”

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