Recent Israeli responses to the Iranian and Syrian aggressive activities in Western Syria and approaching the Golan Heights have been strong and appropriate, according to many observers. There is a sense that, with the blessing and assistance of Russia, Iran has established a firm presence in Syria. While couched in terms of being a defense against Israeli attacks, the nature of the weapons and the facilities being built suggest otherwise. Consequently, the Israeli Air Force have destroyed Iran/Russia bases and installations being built even in the immediate environs of Damascus.
The Israeli military is seeking to protect Israel from potential strikes against its settlements on the Golan; or from coordinated outbreaks by Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon, against Israeli towns and villages in the North. Leaving aside all the blusterous rhetoric emanating from Teheran, Israel is seeking to reduce its exposure to aerial or missile attacks by the growing cast of adversaries populating its border with Syria.
Israel’s strategy is undoubtedly based on very strong and reliable intelligence information. The problem for Israel, however, is whether it is making an accurate assessment of the shifting geopolitical actors and their changed political and diplomatic interests.
In the Arab world, keeping Iran busy and not focused on the Gulf is very much in the Saudi’s interests. Israel’s actions against the Quds forces, for example, is very satisfying to Iran’s adversaries. If circumstances were to dictate that Israel needed to launch a major attack on any of the forces in Syria, however, the Arab nations may well turn on the Jewish State for attacking its brothers.
Over the past seven years Russia has achieved much in Syria with minimal effort or cost. It has its long desired naval base, an active Syrian client, and Iranian forces capable of launching attacks on Turkey or the West if necessary. Russia apparently has now successfully convinced President Trump that their joint efforts to rid the area of ISIS terrorists is completed and America can go home. The departure of U.S. forces from Syria—even if they were only token and symbolic units—has clearly given Israel serious pause as to consider how much interest the Trump Administration seriously has in stopping Russian and Iranian aggression.
It is, in fact, the total lack of a defined U.S. policy towards the growing tension with Syria which ought to unnerve Israeli leaders. Trump has no sense of the national security problems emerging there. John Bolton may try to elevate the issue, but it seems likely that Trump will give Putin a free hand to orchestrate events in the region. In addition, on the public and diplomatic front, Israel ought not to delude itself that this President is capable of walking away from any serious confrontation.
Israel will continue to have the necessary hardware to respond to any military mischief coming from Syria or Lebanon. It does not, however, need to engage the Syrians and Iranians if it knows that there will be minimal effort by the U.S. to convince Russia to contain its allies. Unlike previously, the Netanyahu Government has thrown all its eggs into the Trump and Republican basket. Prior to the forthcoming Israeli April election nothing will change, but if he is re-elected, the next Israeli Government ought to repair this calculus—especially with the Democrats in Congress–before it finds itself facing a serious confrontation alone.