Saturday 3 March 2018

Whose Battle is This?

The recent interception of a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was launched into Israeli air space from Syria, and the events that followed this interception have brought into the open some serious questions about the threat against Israel along the northern border with Syria and Lebanon.  In particular, it has focused on the number of different players who are involved in the Syrian playing field, and the serious nature of the risk that Israel is forced to defend against from a variety of different sources.

The entry of the UAV into Israeli airspace had been anticipated for some time.  Israeli intelligence had identified the intention to send this from Syria, and it had a welcoming committee by the time it crossed the border into Israel.  Interestingly, it had taken a route from the Tiyas airbase (also known as T-4 airbase) in Syria where it was launched, through Jordanian air space and finally entering Israeli air space not far from Beit Shean in the upper Galilee.  The UAV was shot down after spending a little more than 90 seconds in Israeli air space, and this allowed for closer inspection of the vehicle.  It turns out that the UAV was a fairly substantial and serious piece of equipment.  Some have described the UAV as a drone, although I prefer the term UAV.  Somehow, the word drone implies something small and toy-like.  This is clearly not the case here.  The UAV has been identified as a Saeqeh or Thunderbolt from Iran.  This is a stealth model UAV modelled on the American RQ-170 Sentinel spy UAV, one of which was shot down and captured in Iran in 2011.  The launch of the UAV into Israeli air space was something that was clearly planned for some time before, and the type of vehicle that was used is highly sophisticated and shows serious intent on the part of those operating it.

After intercepting the UAV, Israel immediately carried out its stated policy of retaliating against each violation of her sovereignty and security.  Israeli Air Force F-16 fighters were deployed to launch attacks against 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria.  These included aerial defense batteries, targets at the T-4 air base from which the UAV was launched, and positions of the Iranian military establishment in Syria.  The Israeli fighter jets were fired upon by Syrian forces.  The anti-aircraft fire that was directed against the Israeli aircraft was from a number of Russian air defense systems, including the SA-5, SA-17, SA-6 and SA-3 systems.  It was a Russian missile fired by the Syrian army that latched onto one of the Israeli F-16 jets, and exploded next to it causing irrecoverable damage to the aircraft.  The pilots ejected to safety, but not before sustaining injuries in the blast.  The F-16 crash landed in Israeli territory.

Despite the situation remaining tense but calm since this series of events, it has highlighted the complexity of the security situation that Israel faces, and the number of different players that are involved in the conflict.  The UAV that was initially launched into Israeli air space by the Syrian army was an Iranian-built vehicle employing American technology.  Israel finds itself fighting against American know-how,  Iranian production and financing and Russian weaponry launched by Syrian government forces.  More than this, Iran is now represented in the area near to the border in southern Syria, and Israel is being drawn into a direct conflict with Iranian forces.  This is something that is a relatively new development, as Israel's battles against Iran until now have all been via Iranian proxies in the form of Hezbollah, Hamas and others.

The relationships and conflicts with Syria, Iran and its proxies are clear.  These entities call for the destruction of Israel, and do all that they can to bring this about.  Israel will defend herself against them, and will use every effort to harm the interests and positions that these entities possess, no matter where they are situated in the world.  The threats against Israel from these sources are numerous and constant.  They manifest themselves all around the world - against Israeli embassies, airlines, businessmen, tourists and Jewish centres in any location.  All of this comes in addition to the threat along Israel's borders and even within the borders.  Iran has the intention, not only to destroy the Jewish state, but also to increase its sphere of influence in the Middle East and around the world.  It is promoting its brand of Shia Islam against all other religions, and against Sunni Islam.  Iran certainly has aspirations to be a controlling power in the region and around the world.  As part of this effort, Iran is cooperating with Russia and supporting Syria and other proxies in order to confront, the US, Israel and other regional and western powers.

The relationship with Russia is a little more complex.  Israel has found itself on the receiving end of Russian missiles and weaponry that have, not only shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter, but also threaten Israel's safety and security on a daily basis.  Major Russian weaponry systems are deployed in Iran and Syria, and most of these systems are aimed in a threatening way at Israel.  This is all in spite of the fact that Israel has full diplomatic relations with Russia, and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met numerous times and spoken frequently on the phone in recent times.  Netanyahu's requests of Putin have fallen on deaf ears, and Putin continues to arm and finance organisations and governments that seek the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Jews.  Putin's interests are driven by increasing Russia's sphere of influence as much as possible, and by financial considerations.  Russia is making good money from the sale of arms and weapons.  Just as with his relationships with the USA and with Turkey, Putin seems to be playing both sides of the divide with Israel.  While Israel would wish to maintain cordial relations with Russia for a number of reasons, the fact that Russia is openly and unashamedly supporting Israel's enemies is clearly a very concerning situation.

What is clear from this situation is that Israel is fighting a survival battle, not only against enemies, but against "friends" as well.  I use the term friends in a loose way to include even those who are not quite so friendly, but with whom Israel has diplomatic ties.  Such as Russia.  In its fight against the Iranian UAV, Israel found itself battling its closest ally, the USA via the technology that Iran had taken to construct the UAV.  This regional war has a strong global element to it.  The strategic importance of maintaining influence over the Middle East seems not to have diminished over the years.

International diplomacy continues to be governed by interests rather than friendships.  This is very true of Israel's international relations.  The wars that Israel is fighting on her borders are highly complex with so many different parties involved.  It almost makes one wonder whose war this really is.  In reality, Israel is fighting wars with parties which come from much further away than those who reside on her borders.  This is a global war, and one which threatens to become broader and much more complex in the future.

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