Netanyahu: Israel clarified to Russia that IDF will continue Syria strikes
The Israel Air Force will continue to execute missions in Syria to contain threats against the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in China on Tuesday, dismissing reports that Russia had asked for an end to such defensive actions.
The agreement between Russia and Israel that allows the air force to execute defensive missions against targets in Syria has not changed, Netanyahu said. In such instances, he said, “We attack if we have information and the operational feasibility. This will continue.”
Netanyahu said he made this clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders met in Moscow earlier this month. He explained that Israel would continue to act against arms shipments to Hezbollah as it did on Friday, when the IAF struck an arms convoy near the city of Palmyra.
During a speech given at the Meir Dagan Conference at the Netanya Academic College, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said: “We don’t want to interfere in Syria, not for Assad or against Assad. The State of Israel acts in three instances: when we are fired on, when we need to stop a significant arms flow to terror organizations and when there is a ticking bomb, meaning a terror attack is about to be executed.”
“In those situations we do not have any other choice but to act,” he added.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said on Tuesday that such arms shipments are in violation of an existing UN resolution and that Israel’s actions could be seen as supporting the rules of engagement in that area.
On Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said his country would continue to defend its borders against such strikes. Friday’s attack was unusual in that Syria shot anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli jets.
Russia also summoned Israeli Ambassador Gary Koren to defend the strike, which took place close to its troops.
On the issue of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu said that Israel and the Trump administration are working to come to an understanding with regard to building in the West Bank.
These talks do not include building in areas of Jerusalem over the pre-1967 lines, he said. Netanyahu had similarly clarified that Israel would continue to build in east Jerusalem when he spoke with reporters in Washington last month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Netanyahu on Tuesday that peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians would be good for both sides.
Xi, whose country has traditionally played only a small role in Middle East conflicts and diplomacy despite its reliance on the region for oil, said a peaceful and stable Middle East is in everyone’s best interests. He added that China has cultivated increasingly close relations with countries in the region, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.
It has, for example, tried to help in efforts to end Syria’s civil war. Beijing-based diplomats said China considers itself an honest broker without the historical baggage the Americans and Europeans have in the region.
“A peaceful, stable, developing Middle East accords with the common interests of all, including China and Israel,” Xi was quoted as saying, adding that “China appreciates Israel continuing to take the ‘two-state solution’ as the basis for handling the Israel-Palestine issue.”
Peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine would be good for both parties and the region, and is what the whole of the international community favors, Xi said.
Chinese envoys occasionally visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, but Chinese efforts to mediate or play a role in the long-standing dispute have never amounted to much, although China has traditionally had a good relationship with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu told Xi that Israel admires China’s capabilities, its position on the world stage and in history.
“We have always believed, as we discussed on my previous visit, that Israel can be a partner, a junior partner, but a perfect partner for China in the development of a variety of technologies that change the way we live, how long we live, how healthy we live, the water we drink, the food we eat, the milk that we drink – in every area,” he said.
Netanyahu is in China to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. On Tuesday, the two leaders announced the establishment of a comprehensive partnership of innovation between the two countries.
Xi said that since China and Israel established diplomatic relations 25 years ago, they have maintained a stable and healthy development in their bilateral ties. The two countries have seen frequent exchanges through high-level visits while steadily pushing forward pragmatic cooperation, and their people-to-people exchanges have been getting closer, Xi added.
During recent years in particular, innovation cooperation between China and Israel has promoted strong and continuous positive development of bilateral ties, Xi said.
Establishment of the comprehensive partnership of innovation will further enhance this innovation cooperation, better realize complementary advantages and bring more tangible benefits to the peoples of the two countries, Xi continued.
The two sides should enhance political communications, further strengthen exchanges at various levels in different fields and boost mutual understanding and trust, Xi said.
He added that the two countries should boost alignment of development strategies and steadily push forward major cooperation projects within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, focusing on cooperation in fields including scientific and technological innovation, water resources, agriculture, healthcare and clean energy, while deepening and expanding pragmatic cooperation.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, also laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square. Netanyahu then proceeded to the Great Hall of the People, where he met with National People’s Congress standing committee chairman Zhang Dejiang.
“We have made great strides in the 25 years that we’ve had this friendship. We have come a long way on cooperation about economic possibilities, about the betterment of life. And these are all real things that are happening, and I think it’s a great message to our people, but also to the people of the world,” Netanyahu told the chairman. (Jerusalem Post)
Iran accuses Russia of giving Israel codes for Syrian air defenses
Iran has accused Russia of giving the codes for Syria’s anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, a senior official in the engineering department of Iran’s Defense Department told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida on Monday.
According to the report, much remains unknown about Israel’s attack on a Hezbollah weapons convoy and the Syrian response to the Israeli fighter jets early Friday morning. Israel has reportedly attacked dozens of times in Syrian territory since Hezbollah joined the Syrian civil war in 2012, but Friday marked the first time that an anti-aircraft missile had been fired at an IAF jet.
Al-Jarida’s Tehran correspondent, Farzad Qassemi, cited a source in the Iranian Defense Ministry as saying that Iranian experts had changed the operation codes for the Syrian air defense system, which is what enabled the anti-aircraft missiles to be used against the Israeli Air Force on Friday morning.
According to the source, Damascus and Tehran “were shocked” every time the Russian-made air defense system did not work to defend Syria’s airspace, or even give notification that the air space had been penetrated in order to evacuate outposts prior to the airstrike. The systems are supposed to identify the takeoff of Israeli Air Force jets from their bases because of the small distance between the countries and is even supposed to attempt to target the planes and any missiles that are fired from them.
Israel completes advanced testing of mid-range missile interceptor designed to defend against Hezbollah (credit: REUTERS)
According to the source, the Iranians and the Syrians suspected that Russia gave the codes for the air defense system to Israel and even refused the requests of Tehran and Damascus to check the codes. “Iran has the ability today to change the Russian security codes since it received the advanced Russian S-300,” the source added. “This came after it received reports that Israel got the operation codes for the missile system. In Iran, they even expanded their knowledge when they built the Bavar-373 air defense system – which is a domestic copy of the Russian S-300 – in order that the systems would work together during an attack.”
According to the source, three weeks ago, during Iranian military maneuvers, Iranian engineers hacked into the codes of the S-300, but when the Bavar-373 was not working in conjunction with the Russian air defense system the experiment was suspended.
The source said further that the Iranian Defense Ministry sent several engineers to Syria to change the codes of the air defense system that was under the control of the Syrian army, without Moscow’s knowledge. “They succeeded in changing some of the codes last month and therefore when the Israel fighter jets took off from their bases – the air defense system succeeded in identifying them and firing interceptor missiles at them and at the missiles they had launched.”
The source added that “the Syrian radar treated Israeli fighter jets as friendly planes in the past and not as enemy planes, which proves that Israel knew the codes of the missile system.”
According to the source, the identification of the Israeli fighter jets taking off enabled Hezbollah to evacuate the outpost and even to launch a missile toward the military base from which the fighter jets had taken off. “The missile launched by Hezbollah toward Israel was worth some $2,000, whereas the missiles used by Israel to intercept it were worth some $3 million,” the source added.
The Iranian source said further that in a report sent to the Russian military command, the Russians were asked if someone penetrated the Syrian air defense system. Both the Iranians and Syrians were awaiting an answer. (Jerusalem Post)
Mossad, IDF chiefs debate top threat: Iranian nukes or Hezbollah rockets
A debate over which is the biggest threat to Israel – Hezbollah’s rockets or Iran’s nuclear program – erupted anew on Tuesday, between Mossad director Yossi Cohen, who focused on Iran, and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who opted for Hezbollah.
Speaking at a conference at the Netanya Academic College honoring former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Cohen said: “As long as the current regime is in control, whether with a nuclear deal or without one, Iran will continue to be the central threat to Israel.”
He added that Iran has not relinquished its drive for a nuclear bomb, and after Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and terrorism are the next biggest threats.
“Iran wants to have influence and be a key mover in the Middle East,” he said. “Its tactics have changed due to pressures, but the intent and the trend remain… We need to be ready and to embrace opportunities” for cooperation with allies regarding such threats.
Cohen’s comments come as most of the region is focused on recent military exchanges between the IDF, the Syrian Assad regime and Hezbollah.
Netanyahu says Arab countries increasingly see Israel as an ally (credit: PMO)
Meanwhile, Eisenkot’s speech at the conference was far more focused on the threat from Hezbollah and issues with Syria.
While he eventually mentioned Iran at the end of a long list of threats – consistent with some past statements from top IDF officials that Hezbollah poses a greater threat than Iran – most of Eisenkot’s discussion was about the Hezbollah-Assad threat.
He said that the army would continue to work to prevent advanced weaponry from getting into the hands of the wrong people.Eisenkot made his comments just days after Syrian government forces fired an anti-aircraft missile at Israel Air Force jets during an air strike last Friday to halt the flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah near Palmyra.
The IDF chief said that one of the army’s missions was to “prevent the strengthening of those who should not be strengthened by [the acquisition of] advanced weaponry,” and that the IDF’s policy regarding the Syrian civil war was one of “non-intervention alongside preserving our interests.”
Eisenkot said it was in Israel’s interest to keep the northern border quiet, as it has managed to do over the past six years, despite the civil war raging in Syria.
Eisenkot also spoke about the assassination of Hezbollah’s top military commander in Syria last year, declaring that it was carried out by rivals within the group itself.
The death of Mustafa Badreddine illustrates “the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah,” he said.
“According to [media] reports, he was killed by his superiors, which points to the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hezbollah and its patron Iran,” Eisenkot said. “These reports corresponded with the information we have and with our assessment.”
Though Cohen and Eisenkot did not in fact debate (they merely gave speeches one after another), their difference in prioritizing threats effectively renewed a debate which blew up in early 2016 when Eisenkot rated Hezbollah as a far greater threat than Iran – somewhat undermining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regular claim that the nuclear program was Israel’s primary threat.
The new version of the debate, however, placed Eisenkot next to Cohen, the Mossad chief who rarely speaks in public.
Adding context to the IDF chief’s comments was a rare acknowledgment of the rising tensions on the Israel-Syria border from Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday.
“Defending our borders is our right, and it’s our duty, not only our right,” he told Russian reporters in Damascus, according Russian news site Sputnik.
Assad also told Russian parliament members, who paid an official visit to the Syrian capital on Monday, that he was counting on Moscow to prevent Israel from attacking his country in the future.
“We are counting on Russia to prevent a conflict with Israel,” several Russian media outlets quoted him as saying.
On Friday, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to defend the air strike. According to media reports, the strike occurred very close to Russian troops.
In other remarks at Tuesday’s conference, Cohen said, “The new buzz word is hybrid strategy. The idea is to act simultaneously with a diversity of means in addressing an ever-changing mix” of threats.
“Our security establishment must focus on our enemies in the region, to learn about them, to understand them in depth and to use force against them when required. The Middle East is our home field and therefore, we need to be involved in all matters in the region. We need to form alliances, to identify mutual interests with allies, and also with enemies on certain issues,” he said.
Referring to the namesake of the conference, he added, “Meir Dagan bequeathed us a tradition and a determination to fight for Israel and to take any actions necessary to accomplish this.”
Later on at the conference, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo took a different approach, arguing that the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli- Arab conflict was the only real threat to Israel’s existence.
He said Israel’s failure to make brave decisions and cut a deal with its neighbors has it on the march toward becoming a bi-national state.
“Israel has chosen not to choose, to close its eyes and walk forth in the hope that the conflict will work itself out.
Maybe the Arabs will disappear one day, a cosmic or divine miracle will occur,” he said.
Pardo’s criticism seemed to be aimed at Netanyahu, who has pushed for brokering an alliance with Arab moderates first and addressing the Palestinian issue later, since taking office in 2009.
“In the end, we will become a binational state in which all citizens will have equal rights,” Pardo said. “Is this our desire and is this the Zionist vision? Is this what we will want to leave our children? The clock is ticking and the time has come for us to choose a path.”
Pardo appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s assertion that common interests have brought opportunities for relations with the Arab world. But unlike Netanyahu, he warned that these ties could not be fully cultivated without a solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also warned that the opening toward an alliance with moderate Arab states was temporary and that, without a deal in the near future, growing Iranian power could eventually have those states cutting a deal with Iran against Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
Israeli Officials Accuse Obama Holdover of ‘Straining the Atmosphere’ of Trump Envoy’s Recent Israel Visit
Israeli officials are accusing US National Security Council Middle East staffer Yael Lempert — a holdover from the Obama administration — of “straining the atmosphere” of diplomatic envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Israel last week, the Hebrew news site nrg reported.
According to the report, Lempert tried unsuccessfully to prevent Greenblatt from meeting with Israeli settler leaders. Her effort, the report said, was thwarted by “counter-pressure” applied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Greenblatt, the report noted, had come to the region “to listen, but Lempert’s influence was on display, and not in a positive way.”
“Among other things,” the report went on to say, “Greenblatt repeated statements that were heard many times during the Obama administration — that Israel is the stronger side in the conflict and therefore is expected to first take conciliatory measures towards the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials assessed that this argument, as well as human rights issues raised by Greenblatt, echoed similar comments made [in the past] by Lempert, who holds similar views to those of J Street.”
During his Middle East trip, Greenblatt met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman.
A statement released by Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister and Greenblatt “reaffirmed the joint commitment of both Israel and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel and enhances stability in the region.”
Furthermore, the statement said, Netanyahu and Greenblatt “continued discussions relating to settlement construction in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”
Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, is currently in Washington for further talks with Greenblatt about the settlement issue. (the Algemeiner
Israel plans mass evacuation if war erupts again
During the next war, Islamic militants in Gaza or Lebanon who decide to go to war with Israel could find their usual targets empty. This due to the fact that Israel is drawing up contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks executed by Hamas, Hezbollah or other Islamic militant groups.
The mass evacuations would be the biggest in Israel’s history, part of a bigger plan where the army works with municipalities to keep civilians safe.
All sides have been preparing in case a new round of warfare breaks out, although Hezbollah—an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel’s destruction—is currently tied down in Syria’s civil war fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Each side has warned that a new conflict would be worse than previous ones. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities in the 2006 war, while Israel bombarded militant targets in southern Lebanon. The month of fighting killed an estimated 1,300 Lebanese, 44 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli soldiers.
In 2014, 50 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers killed an estimated 2,100 Palestinians, six Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers. There was widespread devastation in Gaza and thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and other Islamic militants at Israeli towns and cities.
Israel has stated that Hezbollah and Hamas have rebuilt larger arsenals capable of hitting the entire country. Elements of the evacuation plan, codenamed “Safe Distance,” were disclosed by a senior Israeli officer in an interview to The Associated Press.
“In 2017, all of Israel is under threat,” said Col. Itzik Bar of the military’s Homefront Command. Preparations are underway for Israel to deal with “very high amounts” of incoming fire, he said.
Bar pointed out that Hezbollah has gained battle experience from fighting alongside Assad’s forces and that Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite group’s chief, has recently increased his rhetoric about attacking Israel.
The idea is to “remove the threat by not having civilians there,” Bar said. “We want a meeting of army and Hezbollah forces and not civilians with Hezbollah forces.”
The evacuation plan would apply mainly to communities adjacent to the borders, he said.
“In places where we understand there is a great danger to civilians, for example, where we won’t be able to supply defenses or supply deterrence … we will evacuate,” Bar said.
Evacuees would be housed in existing infrastructure, including hotels, schools and Kibbutz guest houses, he said.
The scope of evacuations would depend on the situation, but all told, the plans cover up to 250,000 people who would be moved to safety if there is a conflict on multiple fronts, he said. Israel has a population of about 8.5 million.
Small core groups would stay behind in evacuated areas to maintain vital infrastructure and ensure that communities “function the day after the fighting,” he said.
Another senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said the idea resulted from lessons learned in the 2014 Gaza war, in which communities were not evacuated but residents eventually left on their own.
Tens of thousands of Israelis left their homes near the Gaza border as the fighting dragged on, turning some areas into ghost towns. The exodus was sparked by Palestinian shelling along with the fear of heavily armed Gaza militants infiltrating Israel through tunnels.
Border communities vulnerable to mortars are the most in danger, he said.
Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system was seen as a game-changer in the 2014 war, ensuring a decisive protective edge from short-range rockets fired from Gaza. But the security official said there were not enough of the defensive systems to cover attacks on multiple fronts.
He said Hezbollah has significantly built up its weapons stockpile since the 2006 war and has upgraded its arsenal to about 150,000 missiles.
Israel has made it clear it will act to prevent Hezbollah getting advanced munitions and is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on weapons convoys making their way to the militant group. On Friday, Israel made a rare admission of such a strike after Syria fired missiles at its jets.
However, the official said Israel fears that some advanced weapons like surface-to-sea weapons or anti-aircraft missiles might already have reached Hezbollah.
Israel, meanwhile, has been building up its missile defenses. A system called David’s Sling to intercept medium-range missiles from Hezbollah is due to become operational in early April. That would mark the completion of a multilayer missile defense system that includes Iron Dome and Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles—of the type possessed by Iran—high in the stratosphere.
The military also has vastly improved its early warning systems, according to Bar, the Israeli colonel.
Technology has come a long way since 1991 when air raid sirens sent Israelis nationwide scurrying to bomb shelters when Iraq fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. In the 2014 Gaza war, sirens warned of incoming rocket attacks on wide areas.
Bar said the system has been narrowed down and improved “dramatically” with more than 3,000 different warning zones. Now only civilians in the line of fire will need to take shelter, while others in the same city won’t, he said.
An annual intelligence assessment found Hezbollah or Hamas probably are not interested in sparking a war in 2017, but it warned of the danger of a dynamic of escalation leading to conflict. In February, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not seeking a resumption of hostilities. But he vowed that if war did begin, his forces would strike Israel’s Dimona nuclear facilities.
Several Hamas officials say the group does not seek a confrontation with Israel now, but that it has developed its arsenal and restored its capabilities to even greater amount than before the 2014 war. They did not specify numbers.
Reports in Gaza suggest Hamas completed repairs to dozens of attack tunnels used to infiltrate Israel that were damaged in 2014. (Ynet News)
Poll: Half of West Bank youth support two-state solution
A new poll conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development found that while 47.4% of the Palestinian youth in the West Bank support the two-state solution, the remaining 47.7% oppose it.
The poll of 650 West Bank Palestinians between the ages of 18-30 was conducted February 1-5 by Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), a Ramallah-based research and polling institute.
The findings marked an increase in support for the two-state solution among West Bank Palestinian youth compared to those of a similar AWRAD poll conducted in 2016, which found that 41% support a two-state solution, while 56% oppose it.
AWRAD president Nader Said explained the slight increase in support for the two-state solution as a response to the lack of “serious” alternatives.
“The two-state solution is still the only solution that is being discussed in a serious manner,” Said told The Jerusalem Post. “The one-state solution is still an abstraction and not a part of the popular debate.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has consistently stated his support for a two-state solution as the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Fatah Central Committee Member Azzam al-Ahmad said on Monday that Abbas affirmed his support for a two-state solution in a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Said, however, added that future support for the two-state solution could drop if tangible steps to achieve it are not taken.
“Today we are looking at a situation where negotiations have not led to much progress in the peace process and Gaza and the West Bank are divided,” Said stated. “It should not be a surprise if young Palestinians change their thinking in the future, if the status quo prevails.”
The poll also found that 41% of Palestinian youth are in favor of Abbas’s approach to achieving a just solution for the Palestinians, whereas 19% back Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The remaining 40% said they did not know. (Jerusalem Post)
The winds of war are blowing on Israel’s borders
Analysis: The Israeli strike in Syria, the Russian and Syrian responses, and the flare-up in Gaza, are bringing Israel one step closer to a military collision. The relative calm along the borders in recent years, which has become a symbol of security stability and deterrence, is gradually wearing out.
by Alex Fishman Ynet News
The two military incidents over the weekend, both on the Syrian front and on the Gazan front—although unrelated—point to the fact that the relative calm along the borders in the past few years, which has become a symbol of security stability and Israel’s deterrence abilities, is gradually wearing out.
So far, the logic behind IDF operations along the borders was that Israel must do everything in its power to avoid a military conflict. This led to the creation of an equation: On the one hand, Israel acted over the weekend to curb the transfer of long-range and accurate weapons from Syria to Hezbollah and to damage Hamas’s infrastructure and capabilities in the Gaza Strip; on the other hand, Israel made sure not to push the enemy into a corner that would force it to respond in a way that could lead to an all-out conflict.
In recent weeks, however, Israel itself has been putting this equation to the test. It seems as if there is someone on our side who won’t be too sorry to see the security issue reclaim the headlines.
The weekend events in the north indicate that Israel is striking in Syria not only to curb the Iranian arms convoys to Hezbollah, but also to demonstrate its presence in Syria and make it clear, especially to the Russians, that there will be no agreement in Syria without Israel’s input.
According to the Syrian army’s announcement, the Israel Air Force attacked the T4 airport, between Homs and Palmyra, a particularly sensitive area as far as the Russians are concerned, as the Syrian military recently completed a successful attack in the area with massive Russian aid. The airstrike and the interception of the Syrian anti-aircraft projectile raised the stakes for Israel on the Syrian poker table. We are one step closer to a military escalation on the Syrian front. Both sides have climbed up a high tree and are unwilling to budge.
Israel can’t climb down that tree because, according to its military policy, every show of weakness will harm its interests and give the Iranians a foothold in the Golan Heights and a pier at the port of Latakia. Such a pier will turn the supply of arms to Hezbollah from a drizzle into a deluge.
If the Syrians fail to climb down the tree and continue threatening Israel’s freedom of action against the weapon convoys to Hezbollah, a clash with the Syrian army—not just in the Golan Heights, but also deep within Syria—will be inevitable.
There is no wonder there is a nervous silence coming out of Moscow. Such incidents could have far-reaching ramifications on the agreement the Russians are trying to establish in Syria.
The Israeli ambassador in Moscow does not usually get summoned right before Shabbat unless there is unusual concern and anger on the Russian side. It’s quite possible that the Russians feel there is a gap between what they heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Israeli actions on the ground. This isn’t another operational misunderstanding discussed as part of the coordination between the two armies, the Israeli and the Russian, or between the two defense ministries. This is a diplomatic crisis.
In general, Syria’s decision to launch the improved S-200 model, which the Russians recently sold them, is surprising. The S-200 is a heavy, immobile anti-aircraft missile, which can reach a range of 300 kilometers, and is not meant for intercepting fighter jets. Furthermore, Russian military experts said recently that Israel was using electronic warfare systems that completely “blind” the Syrian batteries and disrupt their communication systems.
As far as we know, the Russians did not provide the Syrians with any information on the Israeli strike, which adds to the ambiguity of the decision to launch the Syrian interceptor. It’s also unclear who gave the order in Syria. It’s possible that the decision to launch the missile was not made in the presidential office, and that the Syrian military echelon claimed responsibility for the launch in hindsight.
The working assumption in Israel is that the Syrian missile was directed at some target—but not at the Air Force fighter aircraft, as they were no longer there. The Israeli Air Force is now investigating what was actually shot down by the Arrow missile. It might have been a large fragment of the S-200 that exploded in the air after missing its original target.
The IDF had no early warning about the Syrian missile launch. For years, the teams operating the Arrow 2 interceptor have been waiting for a real-time test—and they passed it successfully. This is also an impressive achievement for the Israeli defense industry. The Arrow 2 intercepted a ballistic object at a range of more than 100 kilometers, beyond Israel’s borders. This is a clear message to the Iranians for the day they decide to fire Shahab missile at Israel.
In Gaza, there has been a significant spike in the number of rockets launched at Israel by Salafist groups. Israel is using this as an excuse to increase its aerial activity against critical military infrastructures in the strip. But this back-and-forth game of ping-pong is taking place during a dramatic change of leadership in Gaza. Yahya Sanwar, who will become the Hamas leader in Gaza in April, is a former student of Abdullah Azzam, al-Qaeda’s spiritual teacher. Granted, he is giving up the prison and underground manners for political visits to civil institutions in the strip, dressed in a suit, but he is not committed to the alleged signs of moderation conveyed by the Hamas leadership in the Gulf states.
Israeli officials estimate that Hamas’ failure to respond to the airstrikes should not be taken as a sign of political moderation, but rather as a sign the organization has simply not yet completed its preparations for another round of fighting. This doesn’t guarantee that Israeli pressure, which will humiliate the leadership in Gaza or lead to casualties, won’t drag Hamas into an armed conflict with the weapons it has accumulated so far.
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