Arkady Savitsky — Strategic Culture May 1, 2018
On April 30, powerful missile strikes were delivered against Syria’s military sites in the provinces of Hama and Aleppo. There were casualties, mainly among pro-Iranian forces and Iranian personnel. Nobody took responsibility but it is widely believed that the operation was conducted by Israel’s Air Force. Israeli officials made no comments but Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said his country would not allow Iran to have military outposts on Syrian territory. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to use force in response to any attempt by Iran to establish a “military foothold” there. Neither would Israel allow Iran to go nuclear. The Israeli government believes it cooperates with N. Korea to acquire nuclear capability, despite the fact that the IAEA affirms that Tehran abides by its international commitments.
Israel has targeted Iranian-backed militia outposts in Syria before. Technically, Syria remains at war with Israel. The Israeli cabinet gathered for an emergency meeting right after the strikes. The military is getting ready Heron ТР drones that have just entered service to strike any air defense systems that can counter the Israeli aviation in Syria. Israeli F-15, F-16, F-35 can operate outside the killing zone of S-300 systems (150km) or approach land targets flying at the altitudes lower than 60m. They have AGM-142 Have Nap air-to-surface missiles with a range of 100km and Delilah stand-off cruise missiles to launch strikes at the distance of up to 250km. If Russia delivers its S-300s to Syria, these weapons will be used to neutralize them.
On April 30, arms depots for missiles were prime targets. One of the positions allegedly was an army base Brigade 47 near Hama city, were Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are based. Syria said it was an act of aggression.
Coincidence or not, the operation was conducted at the time US State Secretary Mike Pompeo was on a visit to Jerusalem and just a few days after Russia announced it was no longer bound by any moral obligations it had before to withhold S-300 air defense systems deliveries to Syria. The US state secretary expressly emphasized the right of Israel to defend itself. He stressed the role of Geneva talks that have so far produced nothing in finding ways to settle Syria’s conflict and purposefully omitted to mention the talks in Astana – the peace process that has produced a lot. The US Centcom commander, General Joseph L. Votel had held talks in Israel just a few days before the state secretary’s visit.
There are other very interesting “coincidences” to provide clues to what is actually happening and why. The April 30 operation was launched at the time direct clashes took place between the US-supported Kurdish-led SDF and Syria’s army. This is a very dangerous turn of events threatening to make US military directly clash with Syria’s and Iran’s forces. Actually, the battle is already waged on at least two fronts.
Now let’s look at what the US and Russia each are doing. Washington supports Israel’s anti-Iran stance. It approves the use of force and is involved in provoking military conflict in Syria. Israel is not alone when it is bracing up for a conflict with Iran.
The present escalation is taking place after Moscow has undertaken an effort to prevent the worst. The International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues undeservedly received little attention in media but the very fact it was organized demonstrates what Russia’s Syria policy is about.
The forum was held on April 25-26 in Sochi, the Russian famous Black Sea resort. Organized by Russia’s Security Council, the event security officials from 118 countries. It was stated there that some countries played into the hands of extremists in Syria. More participants would have participated if Washington did not apply pressure to reduce their number. The conference opposed the unilateral use of force and neglect of international law in Syria. Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s Security Council Secretary, held two separate meetings with representatives of Iran and Israel to discuss the ways to avoid a direct confrontation. As one can see, it’s Russia, not the US, is applying efforts to mediate and thus avoid the war.
The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Moscow on April 28. They disagreed with the opinion of UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s who said in a statement that the Astana process had reached its limits. The parties stressed unity and the need for a broader role of the UN in the efforts to settle Syria’s conflict.
Russia is the only actor fit for the role of a go-between to prevent a war between Israel and Iran and it’s trying to save lives. US officials talk about the potential conflict as something unavoidable. The comparison of the policies adopted by Washington and Moscow clearly shows who is instigating tensions and who is trying to ease them.