Power Shuffle In Israeli-Syrian Conflict


Last weekend Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the Syrian government against using anti-aircraft missiles on Israel. In a statement he delivered on Israeli public radio, Lieberman said, “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our airplanes, we will destroy all of them without thinking twice.”

The statement followed retaliatory action by the Syrian regime after Israeli jets targeted a shipment of weapons from Palmyra, which they claimed were bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is identified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the Arab League and the European Union. The Syrians claim to have downed an Israeli aircraft, something Israel has denied.

The action also featured the first use of the American-Israeli developed ARROW missile defense system, which was not designed to defend against the SA-5 surface-to-air missile deployed by the Syrians but worked in this instance. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) speculated that the older model of missile had run out of fuel but failed to self-destruct, as they are designed to do, and so represented a threat to the densely populated Jordan valley.

At war with Syria since 2011, Israel has routinely conducted secret operations inside Syrian territory to limit the flow of weapons from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, last week’s attack represents the deepest incursion into Syria as yet documented – reaching well into the interior. It marks the largest escalation of force by Syria against Israel since the Yom Kippur war in 1973.

Whatever the reasoning for the initial strike, the response has changed the tone of the conflict in the region. The IDF does not make a habit of commenting on their operations, but in this instance broke their usual silence to confirm the attack and lay the blame at Syria’s feet for escalating the conflict. This represents a move from covert operations to a more open conflict with Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added to the chorus, saying Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and the operational capability, we act to prevent that. That is what was and that is what will be.”

Whenever I see a politician talking about business as usual – it’s usually a safe bet that things are no longer proceeding as usual.

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