A rare skirmish between Israeli and Syrian forces erupted early Friday morning. Damascus launched anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli warplanes. The attack was supposedly retaliation after Israel led a series of airstrikes in the war-torn country.
Syria’s rhetoric has become increasingly belligerent as Bashir al Assad struggles to retain control. Following the incident, Damascus issued a statement loaded with inaccuracies and threats. Assad’s government insists that Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian territory with the intention of aiding ISIS and destabilizing the military.
According to reports, “Israel is widely believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, as well as Hezbollah positions — but it rarely confirms them.”
Despite the differences, both governments confirmed Friday’s scuffle. Israel maintains that their aircraft were in Israeli-controlled airspace when Syria launched their attack. The Israeli aerial defense system destroyed one of the missiles mid-air.
“A Syrian military statement said four Israeli airplanes violated Syrian airspace — flying into Syria through Lebanese territory — and targeted a military position in central Syria,” TIME reports.
The attack in Syria is the only event that both parties agree on however. Israel maintains that neither its citizens nor its aircraft were harmed by Syria’s missiles, while Syria released a blustering statement claiming that at least one Israeli jet was shot down.
Syria’s long, protracted civil war is finally lurching towards a conclusion. The country has been wracked by dissent for over seven years. Russia and Iran’s combined support now bolster Syria’s military so well that Assad has a won a string of critical victories.
The mayhem that crippled Syria’s government allowed the Islamic State’s rapid surge to power. The resulting strife has had devastating effects across the world. Foreign military jets now appear in Syria’s skies. Even if Assad manages to destroy his enemies, he’ll be left with a ruined country.
Until recently, Israel remained largely unaffected by the chaos. But complex forces are now at work. Hezbollah, one of Israel’s most bitter enemies, is also a devoted ally to Assad.
“I’m going to say this with all due caution, but there has never been an army that knows as much about its enemy as we know about Hezbollah,” said Major General Herzl Halevi, the chief of the IDF’s military intelligence directorate. “But still, the next war will not be simple, it will not be easy.”
Many Israelis fear a possible war with Hezbollah, or with the terrorist’s backers, Iran. Syria’s bloodshed is likely with the empowerment of both groups.
“Israeli Channel 10 TV first reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile, intercepting it before it exploded in Israel,” writes TIME.
The Arrow is advanced technology designed to intercept missiles. The military refuses to comment on whether or not the system was used, although a few news outlets aired footage of the supposed remnants of the destroyed missile.
Analysts expect Israel to continue to increase its military presence in Syria.
“Iran has gained (in the Israeli perspective, undeserved) international legitimacy from the nuclear agreement, while not mitigating one jot of Iran’s hostility towards Israel. In sum, for the IDF, events in Syria will not lead to the political outcome the U.S. and Russia are hoping for; instead, it expects to see the Shiite crescent stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean become more awash in weapons,” writes Alastair Crooke for the Huffington Post.
From Israel’s point of view, there’s almost no way for the Syrian conflict to end that won’t be devastating. The entire region is at risk if ISIS triumphs. If Assad claims victory, he’ll do so with Iran and Hezbollah at his side.
Almost none of the bloodshed in Syria seeped into Israel in recent years. The Israelis mostly suffered from random bouts of spillover fire and such events were usually ignored. Friday’s scuffle proves that the relatively peaceful relations between Damascus and Israel are unlikely to continue.
“The question is not how we would like this story to end, but how would we not like it to end,” Halevi said. “Let’s say Da’esh [an Arabic acronym for the so-called Islamic State] has been contained. The superpowers have left the area, and we are stuck here with the Iranian axis with caches of advanced weaponry.”
ISIS isn’t Israel’s biggest threat, Hezbollah is. The IDF views terrorism as a mostly a domestic threat and appear to be unconcerned about the possible consequences if jihadis continue to gain power.
An Iranian hegemony in the Middle East is a bigger threat to the world than ISIS. The Islamic State is almost cartoonish in their brutality and they’ve ignited the ire of most of the world’s superpowers. Iran is far more dangerous because their government is sophisticated and conniving enough to retain a position of global power.