Decision makers in Damascus said “Syria and its allies have decided to move more harshly against Israel, replicating Hezbollah’s strategy in those days (the 90’s), before the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. For every violation of Lebanese airspace over the capital Beirut, Hezbollah would fire heavy artillery above the Israeli villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border”.
“The Syrian command and its allies have decided to impose a new rule of engagement on Israel: for every violation of Syria’s airspace, Damascus will fire dozens of missiles above the Israeli inhabited areas along the Golan Heights. The intention is not to hit a specific target but to make sure no Israeli on the borders and within range of the fired missiles will live in peace. They will be in the shelter, and this will happen every time the Israeli air force violates Syrian sovereignty”, according to the well informed sources.
In fact, two days ago, when Syria downed the Israeli F-16, Damascus started this rule of engagement by firing 25 missiles above the Golan Heights and over Israeli territory, forcing the closure of Ben Gurion airport for several hours. The siren sounded loud and clear in the entire area, ordering civilians to reach the closest shelter.
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on his policy and Syria implements its new “style” of response due to the Israeli Prime Minister’s policy, his popularity will be seriously affected.
Israel found its defeat when its F-16 was shot down hard to swallow, and it will undoubtedly seek revenge. But during the seven years of the Syrian war all it did was to fight “quick battles between wars”, prolonging the Syrian war. Israel is now discovering that the longer the war lasted, the greater the strength of the Syrian army, Iran and Hezbollah: the “axis of the resistance” represented by these is therefore winning and its opponents are losing.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not learn the lessons, and he also deceived the decision-makers in his country. Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin seven times to convince the Israelis that he was able to impress upon the Russian President the prime importance of Israel’s security. This alone would have given Israel enough authority to do whatever it wanted in Syria.
But Netanyahu didn’t report back to his partners in Israel that Putin had clearly stated: “We do not want to be part of your war with Hezbollah and Iran, but it must not be allowed to harm those who are fighting with the Russian army in Syria. And if you want to target the odd Hezbollah ammunition depot or convoy, that’s your business”.
Moscow does not want Israel to play in its Syrian court, and for many reasons: the Levant opened the door wide for Russia to come into the Middle East and have a robust access to the Mediterranean, shake NATO (through its strong alliance with Turkey), and restore its prestige wounded in Afghanistan by America. And clearly it wishes to dismantle the US’s plans for weakening Russia economically and politically.
The US, imagining it could strike Russia without triggering any reaction, tried originally to hit Moscow’s economy through Ukraine by trying to interrupt the Russian gas supply that feeds Europe- and forms the cornerstone of the Russian economy . And lastly, the US sought to remove Russia definitively from the entire Middle East after striking Libya and trying to change the regime in Syria where the Russian navy was based.
Moscow seems faithful to its friends and protective of its interests, and this is what Syria can provide and benefit from if it remains a strong state. Analysts believed throughout the war years that Russia was abandoning President Bashar al-Assad in return for remaining in Syria. But the world did not understand that Russia – as well as Iran – saw in Assad (and in no other possible president-candidate) the only person could live up to his promises and stand up to America.
However, like America, Israel has been reluctant to accept its defeat in Syria and the failure of its project to overthrow Assad and change the regime. It has attacked the Syrian army on several occasions without substantially altering the strategic balance of power in Syria. But this disturbed Russia, and explains why it gave the green light to the government of Damascus for directing its anti-air missiles towards Israel.
The Israeli Air Force has been hitting deep in the Syrian desert in the past, causing Russia discomfort. Netanyahu thought he was the darling child of President Donald Trump and that Vladimir Putin would understand that. The Israeli Prime Minister did not understand that the only reason the Russian President seems happy to see his counterpart President Trump in power is that the latter understands little about politics. Therefore, Moscow can accurately predict the steps that the military and advisors around Trump will take. And Israel’s violation of Syrian sovereignty would never be protected by Russia.
When Israel insisted on resending its Air Force towards the Syrian desert, falling headlong into the trap, it was surprised to see Syrian air defence ready to hunt it down. Putin reminded Trump’s spoiled child –Prime Minister Netanyahu – that he could not go beyond the red lines, especially since the Russian officers work alongside their allied forces counterparts (Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their other allies). The Russian President is not expecting, nor expected, to allow any of his soldiers to be killed by Israel’s air force. Will he listen to Israel’s belated excuses, with Netanyahu asking for forgiveness-while Putin loses his prestige in Russia? This is just not going to happen.
Israel played a losing card in insisting on this futile policy in Syria. An Israeli jet was shot down for the first time in 36 years, allowing President Assad and his allies to collect a victory and regain prestige in the Middle Eastern streets. Israel did not understand that it could no longer achieve its goals in Syria, that the variety of options had shrunk, and that the policy of intimidation – which Israel cannot abandon – far from helping, only strengthens its enemies, Assad, Hezbollah and Iran.
When Hezbollah hit the INS Hanit Sa’ar-5 class corvette of the Israeli Navy during the 2006 war, it effectively removed the entire Israeli Navy from the battle, showing Israel both how determined Hezbollah is to fight, and its capacity to innovate, and reveal military surprises. The downing of the Israeli F-16 certainly informed Tel Aviv that Syria has recovered, ready to do what it has not done since 1973: it is certainly ready for war.
America is in the north-east of Syria and can only get out once it is seriously in trouble-wounded. Netanyahu, who has climbed the tree to sit next to Donald Trump on the same Syrian branch, has supported the jihadists-Takfiris of al-Qaeda and repetitively attacked the Syrian army. Today, the two leaders refuse to recognize that they are up the wrong tree: it is not even their tree! So there is a danger that they will only climb down from the tree when they are both hurt. It is very probable they both need a few more hard years to learn their lesson and let go of Syria.