Intel: How Russia is putting Israel on notice over Syria strikes

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly Cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Oct. 7, 2018.  Photo by Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS.

Dec 26, 2018

Russia’s vocal criticism of Israel’s latest airstrikes in Syria is a not-so-veiled warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to avoid any unnecessary escalation following US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out US troops. Israeli fighter jets attacked two Hezbollah bases and alleged missile warehouses on Tuesday, killing several fighters. The Russian Defense Ministry promptly responded by accusing Israel of endangering two civilian flights and praising Syria’s missile defenses.

Why it matters: Tuesday’s action marked the first Israeli attack since Trump announced the US evacuation last week, claiming the Islamic State had been defeated. The move leaves Russia with unparalleled influence in the war-torn country, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces are still competing for power with various rebel factions, terrorist elements and Kurdish nationalists.

Israel aims to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from gaining a foothold in the country, mostly through the use of airstrikes. But ever since Syrian air defenses accidentally shot down a Russian army plane during an Israeli attack in September, Israel has tread carefully, drastically reducing the number of strikes.

Moscow’s latest reaction shows that Russia isn’t ready for the Israeli strikes to resume, even though Tuesday’s attack was launched from Lebanese airspace and not over Syria. Without a US presence in Syria, Israel will be even more hard-pressed to resist Moscow.

What's next: Prime Minister Netanyahu declared during an Israel Air Force graduation ceremony today that the strikes will not end as long as Iran and its proxies pose a threat. "We will act against it vigorously and continuously,” he said. “We stand by our red lines in Syria and anywhere else.” In other words, Israel has heard Russia’s warning — and refuses to accept it.

Know more: Al-Monitor Russia Mideast Editor Maxim Suchkov has the rundown of how Moscow is responding to the US pullout from Syria. Danny Zaken explains Israel’s plans to fill the US void. And Ben Caspit concludes that Trump's decision leaves Israel to face Iran alone in the region.

Danny Zaken

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