Israel carried out its deadliest air raid on Syria in more than 12 months on April 27. Israeli warplanes bombed an ammunition dump and several positions held by the Iranian military or its proxies in the country, killing nine combatants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It was the eighth attack by Israel on targets inside Syria this year.
While Israel rarely, if ever, comments on operations its armed forces have carried out in Syria during the past decade, it’s widely accepted that it has staged hundreds of attacks in the county since the start of the civil war in 2011, when dictator and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad turned his security forces on the Syrian people in the wake of the Arab Spring protests.
Israel has staged hundreds of attacks in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.
To be clear, these attacks are specifically targeted at Iranian or Iran-backed Hezbollah positions, and often only after Israel has sought permission from Russia. The Assad regime is not the enemy of Israel, given that Tel Aviv views the dictator a better option than the alternative. In fact, it was former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who convinced US President George W. Bush not to push for regime change in Syria.
This view was also held by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who maintained a position of neutrality on the civil war unfolding next door to his country, but for three notable exceptions, detailed by Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and professor emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University:
“Israel would be prepared to offer discreet humanitarian help; it would fire back in the event of firing or shelling into its territory; and it would interdict (without taking credit or responsibility) in order to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapon systems to Hezbollah, or the fall of weapons of mass destruction (chemical or biological) into terrorist hands.”
As for dictator Assad, Israel determined it would be preferable to “stick with the devil they know,” rather than be faced with the prospect of a Syrian central government under direct control of Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, or whoever.
Israel seeks only to “minimize Iranian influence in Syria.”
This view is shared by the Washington DC-based think tank Rand, which says Israel seeks only to “minimize Iranian influence in Syria, prevent Syria from posing a credible military threat to Israel or permitting Iran to do so, undermine the legitimacy of Syria’s claims to the Golan Heights, and prevent Sunni militants from establishing infrastructure or operational bases along Israel’s border.”
But last week’s deadly air raids near Damascus suggest Israel is not only escalating its military offensive against Iran in Syria, but also widening its campaign against its great foe throughout the region. Recent drone and missile strikes on Israel’s Arab Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are ringing alarm bells in Tel Aviv as military analysts believe these same weapons are capable of striking cities in southern Israel, including Eilat and Beersheba.
“Yemen has become an Iranian proxy war against Israel,” argue Katherine Zimmerman and Nicholas A. Heras in Foreign Policy. “The Houthis’ threat to Israel’s security is real, and Israeli national security planners are very alive to the fact,” which is why the Israeli military has repositioned Iron Dome and Patriot air defense systems in southern Israel to guard against the same kind of drone strikes the Yemeni rebel group carried out against Riyadh and Abu Dhabi recently.
“Yemen has become an Iranian proxy war against Israel.”
The waterways surrounding Yemen have already witnessed hostile Iranian and Israeli exchanges, with Israeli mines damaging an alleged Iranian spy ship in April last year, which Tel Aviv accused with providing intelligence and logistical support to the Houthis. Three months later, an Iranian or Houthi drone struck an Israeli oil tanker off the coast of Oman, killing two people.
Then there’s the Yemeni island of Socotra, a UNESCO listed island known as the “Jewel of the Gulf of Aden.” Socotra is located off the Horn of Africa, overlooking the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea to both the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea, and has essentially been annexed by Israel and UAE after reports show the two countries have reached an agreement to share control of the island for the purpose of expanding their shared military intelligence operations.
Last year, the French Jewish site JForum revealed the UAE has partnered with Israel to establish a joint military intelligence base on the island to collect information across Yemen and throughout the Gulf of Eden and Horn of Africa, particularly against Iran.
“Socotra island is attracting a lot of attention from Israeli security services,” an Israeli military analyst told Israel’s Channel 12 in 2021.
The Biden administration’s effort to return Iran to the 2015 Nuclear Deal will ultimately fail.
Now that it appears the Biden administration’s effort to return Iran to the 2015 Nuclear Deal will ultimately fail, it’s likely the US will give Israel a free-hand to pursue and expand its counter-Iran operations in the region. US National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata signaled exactly that on 26 April, when he said in a statement that “the United States is attuned to Israel’s concerns about threats to its security, including, first-and-foremost, from Iran and Iranian-backed proxies.”
It’s against this backdrop that Israel carried out its deadliest airstrike in Syria in more than a year on, striking Iranian-backed proxy forces. No doubt, it is a prelude of more to come in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.