Dr.Salim M.Al Zanoon
Iran and Israel seek to achieve their goals, without being drawn into a full-scale war. Russia (and not the United States) is the key to preventing escalation. Moscow has a certain influence on Iran , a greater influence on Syria and relations with Israel , which put an end to the recent confrontation .
First: Operational axis.
In response to the Syrian forces’ dropping of an Israeli aircraft type F-16, Israel attacked 12 targets in the depth of Syrian territory, including four Iranian targets, three Syrian missile batteries and the Syrian army’s fire management center. This is the largest Israeli attack since the first Lebanon war called Peace for Galilee “in 1982.
The Israeli achievement lies in two things:
The first is the ability to track an unmanned Iranian aircraft (which is technologically advanced and difficult to detect) from the start of it to its downfall and control it to take advantage of its characteristics and capabilities.
Second: the ability to destroy the Iranian launch platform responsible for firing unmanned aircraft (drones) , causing paralysis for a while until a new platform is prepared.
Second: the significance of events on the northern front.
1. It is not possible for the Syrians to act without the knowledge of Iran and Russia, both of whom were aware of the capability of Syrian forces’ response and assessment of its possible consequences.
2. The transition of confrontation between Israel and Iran for the first time from the proxy confrontation to the direct confrontation on Syrian territory, as all the details of the Iranian operation: the plane, the vehicle of control, the guidance and the command of the aircraft, until the moment it penetrated the Israeli airspace.
3. Iran’s supervision of sending the aircraft from start to the end reflects a change in Iranian attitudes towards the Iranian-Israeli conflict, with regard to the red lines in Syria, and sending a clear message to Israel that the level of responses to Israeli attacks against Iranian targets in Syria will be higher than the previous.
4. The erosion of the concept of Israeli deterrence was not the result of this incident, but it came cumulatively over the past years. From now on, the freedom of Israeli movement in the Syrian airspace has become restricted. Any activity of the Israeli Air Force carries a high risk of a possible Syrian response. This indicates for the complexity of the work of the air force and the major challenges inherent in the coming war.
Third: Possible scenarios.
At the Israeli level.
1. Non-slip into war.
Israel does not want to slip into a direct confrontation against Iran or Syria, and will work through diplomatic channels, to pass threatening messages by the United States and Russia, for several reasons:
The Israeli involvement in the current confrontation will force Russia to adopt a clear strategic direction in support of Iran, as it needs field assistance from its loyal militias on the ground to complete the Battle of Idlib.
Involvement in a confrontation that affects the description of the war in Syria as an internal Syrian struggle and turning it into a war against Israel, thus strengthens the situation of Iran, Hezbollah and some militias, as well as supporting Syria and Iran’s claims that Israel and the United States are interested in continuing the war.
2. Prevent the consolidation of Iranian influence without war.
Israel can prevent Iran from continuing to consolidate its influence in Syria without sliding into war, by working on four axes:
The first: attacking important facilities of the Assad regime as he is not interested in the confrontation now, to create tension between him and Iran, in the hope that Russia stands on the side of Assad more than Iran.
Second, pressure on the United States to show a greater understanding of other Russian needs (Western sanctions against it) in return, a more supportive Russian approach on the Iranian issue.
Third, to emphasize that any intervention by Hezbollah from Lebanon will lead to a full-scale war on Lebanon, and no one (France, Russia, the United States, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia) wants to destroy Lebanon.
Fourth, to prevent a confrontation with Hamas and focus on the northern front, the economic situation there must be improved, even if it is achieved through the Hamas government.
3. Work on three levels.
The first is short-term, linked to the government’s decision, and the pressure exerted by Washington and Moscow to limit its desire to strike Iranian control in Syria.
The second in the medium term, and is linked to the readiness for new Iranian and Syrian reactions, particularly a long-range missile attack.
Third, on the long run, prepare for the inevitability of a certain clash in the future, when the precision missile factory built by Iran for Hezbollah in Lebanon is achieved.
4. The possibility of the next clash on the borders of Syria – Iraq.
Iran and Russia are trying to conduct a bi-directional military movement across the border between Iraq and Syria by establishing an Iraqi Shiite force and transferring it from southern Iraq to Syria and partly to Lebanon. The force is backed by a Russian and Iranian air force and is expected to enter Syria’s borders in late April, and settle down in the cities of Abu Kamal and Deir ez-Zor, thus the Israeli political and military leadership will face difficult decisions, and the confrontation will be very complex as the battlefield moves away from the Israeli north and the battles are conducted on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
At the Iranian level.
Iran is not interested in direct war with Israel, and points to this:
1. Its denial for the ownership of the drone plane that infiltrated into Israel.
2. Her media speech indicates its desire to keep itself away from recent events, reflecting Tehran’s effort to avoid direct confrontation with Israel and to continue framing the confrontation as it happens between Syria and Israel, without any connection to Iran.
3. Did not respond to Israeli fighter jets when they attacked the commanding vehicle of the drone plane, or attacked four Iranian stores close to Damascus.
The Iran’s approach of non- direct confrontation with Israel is based on three main pillars:
1. Any confrontation with Israel will be a card in the hands of Trump and the US Congress in the next May to impose new sanctions on Tehran.
2. Iran is currently seeking a political solution in Syria, and fears that a confrontation with Israel will prompt it to wage a war against Hezbollah.
3. Without the join of Hizbollah to the confrontation from Lebanon, the military ability to strike Israel from Syrian territory is limited, but once the Iranians decide to use Hezbollah’s military force from Lebanon, Israel will find itself in a full-scale war.
Nevertheless, the breakthrough of the drone plane to the Israeli airspace indicates to Tehran’s insistence on working in Syria, continuing to gather information about Israel, and not being deterred by Israeli attacks against Syrian Iranian sites in the production of precision rockets in Syria.
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies