On the heels of President Trump’s intentions to withdraw US troops from Syria, Israel is making it known to the world that the pending US departure will not affect its own Syrian strategy. On Christmas Day Israeli warplanes went into action against Iranian military targets in Syria, striking a weapons storage warehouses, and ammunition supply points. Iran’s significant military presence in Syria has been a major concern for Israel and in 2018 a number of airstrikes were launched against Iranian targets on Syrian soil. Israel’s government has stressed that Iran’s smuggling of weaponry to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon is a red line and as long as it continues, military actions will continue.
Syrian government statements claim that its air defense forces shot down 14 of the 16 missiles launched by Israeli warplanes, however, post-strike satellite photos appear to show that most Israeli missiles reached their targets. The Russian Defense Ministry also reported that two civilian airliners were placed in danger by the air strikes. There are unconfirmed reports that one of the flights was diverted to the Russian airbase outside of Latakia. Igor Konashenkov, a defense ministry spokesman was quoted as saying, “Provocative acts by the Israeli air force endangered two passenger jets, when six of their F-16s carried out air strikes on Syria from Lebanese airspace.”
There has been concern about the blowback the US pullout might bring for Israel, but Tuesday’s air strikes should lay these concerns to rest. The absence of US ground troops in Syria will not alter, or dissuade current and future strategies, and actions of the major players in and around Syria. Russia will continue to consolidate and expand its position with an eye towards shaping how Syria develops post-conflict. The Assad government is still centered on dismantling any and all rebel groups posing a threat to its hold on power. Iran, like Russia, intends to consolidate its presence in Syria now and in the future while continuing to funnel weapons to Hezbollah from there.
And while Iran continues along this path, Israel remains committed to actively defending against it.