The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Russia may demand due consideration, but Israel has proved time and again that it will not allow Iran to tighten its grip on Syria, even if doing so stokes regional tensions.

Russia’s decision to reveal that it was the Israeli Air Force that struck the T4 air base in Syria’s Homs province early Monday came as somewhat of a surprise.

One has to wonder what pushed Moscow to do so, as it ostensibly has no interest in fueling tensions between Israel and Syria. Moreover, while ambiguity allows Syrian President Bashar Assad to contain the situation and save face, this type of revelation paints Assad – and his Iranian patrons – into a corner from which they would have to mount a potentially harsh response.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s condemnation of the strike is also puzzling, as is Russia’s logic as a whole in this case. Other than letting the world know what they know and underscoring that, as a superpower operating in the Middle East, Russia deserves due consideration, the Russian motive is unclear.

The fact that the T4 air base was also the point from which the Iranian drone that breached Israeli airspace in February was launched, as well as reports of Iranian casualties, presumably Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel, proves that the strike targeted Iranian assets and not Syrian chemical weapons production facilities.

It is likely that Russian deployment in the area encouraged Iran to use the base, as it assumed Israel would be wary of carrying out a strike so close to Russian troops. The Iranians may have also assumed that Russia would take a harsher tone with Israel in the wake of the attack, which Lavrov did, but the situation still begs the question – why would Russia allow Iran to operate so close to where Russian troops are based? Can it be that Moscow actually fails to understand that Iran is using it and placing Russian soldiers in harm’s way?

Russia’s reasons aside, it is clear that Israel is determined to continue undermining Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and transfer game-changing weapons to Hezbollah.

The location of Monday’s strike, far from Lebanon, supports the assumption that it targeted Iranian infrastructure, but we also cannot dismiss the possibility that the Iranians tried to transfer equipment or weapons to Hezbollah via a remote base in an attempt to throw off Israel’s suspicions and undermine its ability to monitor the process.

Israel’s determination is clear. It will not allow Iran to tighten its grip on Syria, even if it results in a security escalation that will come with a potentially high price.


Published in Israel Hayom, 10.4.2018

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photo: Preiss/ MSC [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons