Syria strike sends mes­sage to Tehran and Moscow

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

AN AIRSTRIKE in Syria in the early hours of Thurs­day morn­ing last week, tar­get­ing what is re­ported to have been a cen­tre manufacturing chem­i­cal and bal­lis­tic weapons, is widely ac­cepted in the re­gion as be­ing the work of Is­rael. Of­fi­cials in Jerusalem have not of­fi­cially ac­knowl­edged re­spon­si­bil­ity but it would seem as if the at­tack on a tar­get op­er­ated jointly by Hezbol­lah and the As­sad regime was part of a more com­plex mes­sage to both Tehran and Moscow.

In re­cent weeks, Is­rael has been wag­ing a cam­paign against Iran’s plans to deepen its pres­ence in Syria, mak­ing the coun­try a link be­tween Shi’a-dom­i­nated Iraq and Hezbol­lah in Le­banon. The cam­paign has had a pub­lic side, in­clud­ing an in­ter­view last month with the out­go­ing Is­raeli Air-Force com­man­der in which Is­rael fully ac­knowl­edged for the first time that it had been be­hind nearly 100 strikes on Hezbol­lah con­voys and weapons de­pots in Syria over the past six years.

The diplo­matic side of the cam­paign is chiefly be­tween Is­rael and Rus­sia. Two weeks ago, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu flew to Sochi to urge Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin not to al­low Iran to con­tinue pour­ing more forces into Syria. The lo­ca­tion of last Thurs­day’s at­tack, in north­ern Syria, near a Rus­sian anti-air­craft bat­tery, was a mes­sage as well.

The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has yet to com­ment on the airstrike. Its si­lence, and the fact that Rus­sian air de­fence units did not try to ham­per the at­tack, demon­strates that for now, the Krem­lin is happy to al­low both its Ira­nian al­lies and Is­rael to op­er­ate in Syria, as long as Rus­sia’s main in­ter­est – safe­guard­ing the As­sad regime in Da­m­as­cus and en­abling it to grad­u­ally re­gain con­trol of parts of Syria it lost to the rebels – is not harmed.

But while this ar­range­ment has worked for Rus­sia since it first de­ployed its forces to Syria two years ago, it may not con­tinue to work for much longer. Iran is al­ready work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing a long-term pres­ence in Syria be­gin­ning the day af­ter the civil war ends. Tehran is plan­ning on ex­tract­ing a full price from Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad for its as­sis­tance in the shape of an Ira­nian port on the Mediter­ranean, an air-base and other per­ma­nent mil­i­tary strongholds.

Is­rael has made it clear that it will not al­low per­ma­nent Ira­nian bases to be es­tab­lished so close to its bor­der. Rus­sia will have to make a choice whether to rein back the Ira­ni­ans. If Rus­sia con­tin­ues to al­low Iran to en­trench in Syria, the dilemma in the coun­try post-war will then be Is­rael’s. Does it risk an all-out con­flict with Iran’s prox­ies in Syria and Le­banon, pos­si­bly en­joy­ing the sup­port of Rus­sia, or will it have to ac­cept the fact that Iran has ex­panded to its bor­ders?

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