When it comes to Iranian infiltration of Syria, Israel is refusing to be stymied by the usual Muslim tactic of hiding military assets in civilian installations
As is well known, Iran has made opening a direct front against Israel in Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria a strategic goal for its expansionist Middle Eastern policy. To accomplish this goal, Iran has been trying to establish in western Syria bases from which highly accurate surface to surface missiles could threaten Israeli military and civilian targets.
Israeli PM Netanyahu has made clear his determination to thwart Iran’s anti-Israeli ambitions in Syria by any means necessary. In furtherance of this commitment, Israel has been routinely attacking and destroying Iranian weapons depots as soon as they are restocked with fresh deliveries.
Such an attack occurred on Wednesday night, resulting in the killing of at least 23 pro-Iranian militiamen and widespread property damage. In the aftermath of the attack, for which Israel took no responsibility, Russia complained that missiles fired at the weapons depot in the vicinity of the Damascus international airport were fired from Israeli Air Force F-16 jets operating over the Golan Heights, within Israeli sovereign territory. According to Russia, a total of eight air to surface missiles were fired. These missiles forced an Airbus A320 airliner operated by Syrian-owned Cham Airlines with 172 souls on board to abort its landing at the Damascus airport and divert to the Russian-owned and operated military airbase Hmeimim on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Russia accused Israel of timing its attack to coincide with the arrival of the civilian airliner in order to limit the ability of the Syrian air defenses to shoot down the incoming Israeli missiles. This accusation comes on the heels last year’s shoot down by Russian air defenses of a Russian military transport on short final approach to the Hmeimim airbase while an Israeli airstrike against nearby Iranian interests was underway.
An objective analysis of the situation may support Russian claims. It is not exceedingly likely that Israeli missiles, which take only two or three minutes to cover the 50 or so miles from the Golan Heights to Damascus, would coincide with an arrival of an airliner into a rather small and not very busy airport. Indeed it could well be that Israel timed its attack to coincide with the arrival of the airliner in order to render the Syrian defenses less effective for fear of mistakenly shooting it down while targeting the Israeli missiles.
The real question is not whether Israel does or does not use civil aviation as a shield for its attacks against Iranian weapon depots in Syria, but rather what are Iranian weapon depots doing in Syrian civilian airports. Since Syria has many military airbases, it would stand to reason that any deliveries of military materiel and the storage thereof would take place at these airports rather than in any proximity to the country’s major civil aviation hub. There can be no doubt that Syria and its master Iran are using civilian installations for military purposes precisely in order to deter Israel from attacking them.
In refusing to play this game and indeed turning the tables on its enemies by taking advantage of limitations that are imposed on the operations of air defenses when they are located at busy civilian airports, Israel is simply exercising its right to self-defense. Russia, being as it is one of the main sponsors and supporters of the Assad regime in Syria, should make sure that the regime does not allow Iran to deliver, store, and deploy weapon systems in civilian airports.
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