Syria’s opponents and those playing on differences between Syria and her allies (especially Russia and Iran) energized in planting doubts, find in the progression of “Israeli’ air raids on Syria an exemplary arena to realize their goals.
The air raids have continued and averaged almost a weekly air raid, while Syria settles for blocking the offensive missiles with counter missiles usually achieving good results. However, the moral impact of such raids continues to have a wounding impact on particularly Syrian public opinion, and on Arab public opinion in general. Demands for a response with every raid escalated considerably after the latest raid on the Port of Latakia. Criticism of the Russian stance increased, holding it responsible for such unbridled “Israeli” aggression, and some going as far as accusing Russia of complicity and partnership and not just turning a blind eye to such attacks.
In cases such as this, war plays a significant role in morale, and it no longer suffices to merely consider its field and strategic dimensions and to place it within the Military Command’s general context of setting priorities and allocating resources for the priorities it has set. A cursory glance at the goals of the “Israeli” air raids suffices to discern their insignificance, either strategically in terms of bringing any change to the balance of power or the course of events, or tactically by inflicting serious damage to civilian or military structures.
The air raids continue because of their moral implication. They confirm “Israeli” superiority to a public opinion doubtful about the ability of its commanders to become engaged in new wars. Refraining response provides the “Israeli” Command with an indication about the balance of power which controls its relationship not only with Syria but with the Axis of Resistance. The pretext for these raids comes under various headlines including prevention of the flow of Iranian arms to the Al-Mukawama forces (the Axis of Resistance), and the positioning of Iranian and Al-Mukawama forces in the areas close to the occupied Syrian Golan territory.
Such headlines, though merely propaganda, add to already planted doubts about the strategic superiority over the Occupation which Al-Mukawama’s command purports, and to proclamations about the ability to wipe “Israel” out of existence made by Commanders in Al-Mukawama. They also raise suspicions between Al-Mukawama forces and Russia, or at least shake the confidence of Al-Mukawama’s public, particularly in Syria, about the substance of the alliance with Russia.
From the imperturbable perspective of Al-Mukawama’s Command, at the head of which is Iran and at its heart Syria, and the Russian Command is indestructible confidence in the alliance which has achieved victories that set back the American endeavor, at its heart “Israel,” aimed at bringing down Syria, and sectioning it into emirates, sheikhdoms, dwarf states, and areas of influence. Added to it is indestructible confidence in the magnitude of sacrifices made by all the parties of this alliance and its toll on each, and their collective acknowledgment of the particularity pertinent to each member of the alliance in their management of responses to the air raids.
Russia is committed to rebuilding Syrian air defenses and had done a great deal in that regard, as manifested in Syria’s repulsion of oncoming missiles (with counter-missiles) and shooting down a very large number of them, and in the downing of the first “Israeli” fighter plane from Syrian skies 4 years ago, and in the deterrence of “Israeli” planes from entering Syrian skies since then. Also in this alliance, Russia drew her international role in Syria under the ceiling of support for the legitimate State in its confrontation with terrorist groups and is unready to broaden her commitment into becoming a party in the historic, existent, and ongoing conflict between Syria and “Israel”.
As for the Al-Mukawama Axis without exception, with Iran and Hezb Allah at the forefront, the limits for their stance, is that which is set by the Syrian Leadership, and respect for the schedule of priorities it has set. For Syria, the priority remains continued liberation of territories out of her control and under the control of both American and Turkish Occupations, providing shade to separationist and terrorist groups. Syria prefers to proceed with her priorities rather than being drawn into sidelines, as long the “Israeli” air raids remain of a propaganda nature, especially that this lends ease in her relationship with Russia in the context of the original mission which brought Russia to Syria.
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The last air raid on the Port of Latakia is of a different nature than its predecessors. It came at the apex of the Ukrainian crisis as Russia attempts to change the rules of engagement. The message it carried to Moscow is that the range of the “Israeli” movement will not conform to Russian red lines, and that “Israel” is capable of influencing the course of the confrontation with Ukraine through its influential Jewish communities in both Russia and Ukraine. “Israel’s” aim from increasing its range of air movement is to influence the course of the Vienna nuclear agreement negotiations with Iran through military escalation in the region aimed at aggravation of the talks, and pressuring the American position and placing it in a difficult corner.
Moscow’s apprehension of this message was evident in reading between the lines of the Russian statement accusing “Israel” of hiding behind airborne Russian planes in Latakia’s air space, and accurately choosing the timing of the raid to coincide with that along with coinciding with the accompanying suspension of Syrian air defenses to avoid an incident similar years before when a Russian plane was downed by a Syrian missile.
What remains certain is that the treatment of this air raid will be different than that of its predecessors. Everyone is awaiting the steps that will follow the statement made by the Russian Ministry of Defense, especially in view of the past harsh measures Russia took in which she stopped her political relationship with the Government of the Occupation, supplied the Syrian military with a modern air defense network, and closed the Syrian air space to “Israeli” planes in all areas of Russian air presence to include Latakia, Damascus, and Homs.
What is also certain is that the Russian response remains Russian, that the Syrian response is forthcoming and will not take long, and that the entire Axis of Al Mukawama will be behind it. What is also certain is that missiles in response to air raids will be on the table, drawing new rules of engagement, especially in view of the Trump Administration’s support for the annexation of the Golan not having been officially withdrawn during Joe Biden’s Administration, and the ink has not dried on the Occupation’s latest Settlement expansion plans in the Golan.
This article is republished with the consent of the author Mr. Nasser Kandil, Editor in Chief of the Lebanese Al Binaa Newspaper, former MP in the Lebanese Parliament, and leading strategical and political analyst. The article first appeared in Al Binaa Newspaper on 10 January 2022.