TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (Analysis) — On Saturday, December 2, 2017, Israeli missiles struck a Syrian Army arms depot (allegedly belonging to Iran), which in turn prompted Syria to activate its air defenses, resulting in the destruction of two Israeli missiles.
The facility targeted in the December strike was well-known to the Israeli authorities for some time and, as the Jerusalem Post notes, “raises questions as to the timing of the attack and what it was meant to achieve.” The strike allegedly killed 12 Iranian personnel.
Israel has admitted to attacking Syria’s sovereignty at least one hundred times since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, with little reporting on Israeli aggression by the media. Most media headlines are cluttered with coverage of an expansionist Iran and demonization of its allies Syria, Russia, and Hezbollah.
The narrative of the war in Syria and how it began has been rewritten and flipped by the media and politicians who benefit from the war to suit an agenda that works in Israel’s interest. Before the conflict began, Israel was one of the primary actors in calling for the destabilization of Syria along sectarian lines. Since 2011, however, absent from the media’s coverage of the war in Syria has been Israel’s covert role in supporting al-Qaeda affiliates.
But, as the Trump administration’s support for Syrian rebels wanes — after Syria, Russia and Iran declared victory in defeating Western- and Gulf-backed proxies — Israel’s covert support for these terrorists is becoming more public. Even Israeli military commanders and politicians are speaking more openly about their alliance with these terror groups.
As an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) brigadier told Politico’s Bryan Bender:
If I can be frank, the radical axis headed by Iran is more risky than the global jihad one. It is much more knowledgeable, stronger, with a bigger arsenal.”
Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, stated that if he had to choose between ISIS and Iran, he would always “choose the Islamic State.”
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Israel has even allegedly provided medical treatment to at least 3,000 Syrian rebels — mostly from the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front — in a four-year period. Israel’s desire to help wounded fighters, out of so-called humanitarian concerns, makes little sense to those following Israel’s constant bombing campaigns in Gaza that target women, children, and even the disabled.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Israel has been covertly providing aid to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights throughout the conflict, with the goal of maintaining a buffer zone to keep forces aligned with Iran at bay. The report notes that the aid has been substantial and direct — with the inclusion of cash, food, fuel and medical supplies — even suggesting that some of these groups have been completely reliant on Israeli aid.
Fighters openly admitted that they use Israeli cash to buy weapons and ammunition. Syrian rebels even returned to Israel an eagle that was found in ISIS territory. This signals a very cozy and disturbing relationship between the jihadists inside Syria and the Israeli military.
Putting the Stike in Context
Israel’s support for jihadist groups is rooted in a desire to quell Iranian presence in Syria, as detailed in an email published by WikiLeaks from the archives of the former head of the State Department, Hillary Clinton, which states:
The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad…For Israeli leaders, the real threat from a nuclear-armed Iran is not the prospect of an insane Iranian leader launching an unprovoked Iranian nuclear attack on Israel that would lead to the annihilation of both countries. What Israeli military leaders really worry about — but cannot talk about — is losing their nuclear monopoly.
An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would not only end that nuclear monopoly but could also prompt other adversaries, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to go nuclear as well. The result would be a precarious nuclear balance in which Israel could not respond to provocations with conventional military strikes on Syria and Lebanon, as it can today.”
And how was this to be achieved? The email further states:
Washington should start by expressing its willingness to work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train and arm Syrian rebel forces. The announcement of such a decision would, by itself, likely cause substantial defections from the Syrian military. Then, using territory in Turkey and possibly Jordan, U.S. diplomats and Pentagon officials can start strengthening the opposition. It will take time. But the rebellion is going to go on for a long time, with or without U.S. involvement.”
The email exposed the planning and execution of U.S. and Gulf Arab collaboration in financing and arming right-wing rebel groups, like the Free Syrian Army, in an attempt to violently overthrow the Assad government in Syria, Iran’s only major Middle Eastern ally, for the sake of Israel. The U.S. worked very closely with Arab dictatorships and monarchies like Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to train Syrian rebels in an effort to destabilize Syria along sectarian lines, creating one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time.
A 2014 report by PBS detailed how the CIA was teaching these rebels battlefield tactics, including some that could amount to war crimes, in a training camp in Qatar:
They trained us to ambush regime or enemy vehicles and cut off the road,” said the fighter, who is identified only as “Hussein.” “They also trained us on how to attack a vehicle, raid it, retrieve information or weapons and munitions, and how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush.”
The leaked email makes it abundantly clear that Washington’s obsession with Assad’s removal was never about humanitarianism or saving the Syrian people from a tyrannical regime, but was instead aimed at containing Iranian influence for the benefit of the Israeli government.
After taking a more quiet and covert role in supporting al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria — an approach that is on the verge of failure — Israel doesn’t seem to be giving up and is willing to confront Iran on a more aggressive scale through the use of airstrikes.
Where we are headed, connecting the dots
In the days following the December strike, Israel launched a large-scale surprise military drill along the country’s northern border with Lebanon, one of the many countries that has taken a strong stand against Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The drill was aptly summarized by Newsweek:
The Israeli military reportedly mobilized its Galilee division, including hundreds of logistics corps soldiers and dozens of vehicles, without prior notice, in an effort to test its rapid-response capabilities in the event of a conflict breaking out in the tense northern region, near foes Lebanon and Syria.”
Both Arab nations have recognized Jerusalem solely as the capital of an independent Palestinian state, and have been hit by Israeli airstrikes targeting Iran-backed forces, such as Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, which has focused on battling Syrian rebels and jihadis in recent years, after having clashed with Israeli forces for decades.
In September, Israel quietly held another military drill, its largest in 20 years, which was designed to simulate a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israeli soldiers playing the part of “the enemy” even wore Hezbollah’s signature yellow and green flag and guerilla-style uniforms.
Israel is allegedly increasing its defense budget by more than $1 billion in the coming five years. This budget isn’t being prepared for nothing.
An Israeli military general tasked with drafting Israel’s defense policy publicly admitted that Israel was preparing for a war with Iran, but that it could not hope to take on Iran directly without America’s help.
According to Defense News, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at least six times in a 17-month period to press his Russian counterpart for an Iran-free zone of influence. Israel is concerned that Iran’s military buildup inside Syria will extend beyond the deployment of its proxy forces and will instead take the form of “air bases, seaports and other critical infrastructure in Syrian territory.”
Hence Israel’s December strike, aimed at a Syrian facility which they allege was being used to provide arms to Iran’s proxies in the country, and even in the Palestinian territories. It is important to note that this was not a one-off strike. Within the space of about a week, Israel had allegedly struck Syrian territory at least four times, signaling a shift in attitude toward deeper involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Israel cannot hope to take on Iran directly unless the United States conducts the conflict on Israel’s behalf. In light of this, it has only one real option to confront Iran by lesser means, continued attempts to weaken Assad in Syria and to directly confront Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel does decide on another direct confrontation with Hezbollah, it likely will not play out in the same manner as it did in 2006, when Israel was repelled after attacking Lebanon in a bid to weaken Hezbollah. As The Hill explains:
The new cadre of fighters Hezbollah is bringing in is also professionalizing what was previously an explicitly guerrilla-oriented organization. The fight for Syria against the nominally Sunni ‘Takfiri’ (apostate) ISIS, has been a gift to the Shia Hezbollah, spurring recruitment efforts. Put simply, Hezbollah is not just getting better at fighting, its army is also getting bigger.”
In essence, Israel would have to intervene militarily in both Lebanon and Syria if it hopes to take on Hezbollah, and this would lead to a direct confrontation with Iran — whether or not Israel is prepared for it. According to Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman, Iran is working on building a military airfield near Damascus where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) will be free to operate. It is only a matter of time before Israel attacks enough IRGC members that Iran decides it can no longer remain idle and watch Israel’s unchallenged aggression on neighboring sovereign allies.
According to the Times of Israel, the December strike allegedly killed 12 Iranian military personnel. In 2015, Israel assassinated a top Iranian general with little to no outrage from the international community.
Further, Israel has already more or less accepted responsibility for the assassination of a number of Iranian scientists, something one would expect to bring outrage to the international community. Under the guise of defending itself from a repeatedly proven non-existent Iranian nuclear threat, Israel is prepared to do almost anything – even if it means a direct contravention of international law. This includes openly colluding with Saudi Arabia to interfere in domestic Lebanese politics in order to achieve its goal of countering Iranian influence.
The reality is that Israel is already in the business of killing Iranians with little mention from the media, a fact worth noting should a war ever eventuate between the two rival powers — given that the adversarial nature of the respective nations is consistently painted as being solely attributable to Iranian aggression.
Top photo | Two men, not specified which group of rebels, ride a motorcycle towards an abandoned UN base at Syria’s Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Nov. 28, 2016. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Darius Shahtahmasebi has completed a Double Degree in Law and Japanese from the University of Otago, with an interest in human rights, international law, and journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @TVsLeaking.
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