“The prospect of an initiated war that will develop against us in the north is low, because there is a responsible adult around. Putin will not allow anyone – neither us nor the Iranians – to sabotage his project of stabilizing Syria,” said Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Eshel Monday at the Forum of Senior Economists of the University of Haifa.
Maj. Gen. Eshel, a former head of the IDF Planning Directorate, served as commander of the Israeli Air Force from May 10, 2012 to August 10, 2017.
Eshel said the Russians are now the main player in the Syrian region, and the main interest of Putin is to ensure stability in the region. Therefore, Putin’s interest in the short-term is to allow Iranian activity, but in the long run he is not interested in the survival of Iranian forces in the region.
According to Eshel, Syria’s own interest in stability reduces the chances of an Iranian initiative against Israel which would lead to war. He added that Russian criticism of Israel a few weeks ago, when the IDF attacked Iranian targets after an Iranian drone entered Israel, must be understood in this context.
“Russia released a statement that Syria’s airspace must be respected, and we immediately understood that this was criticism of Israel,” Eshel said, noting, “This is true, but, equally, the criticism was directed against Iran, which also should not presume they can use Syrian airspace as they wish.”
However, Eshel stressed that the Iranians have not said their final word, and the situation in the Middle East can always deteriorate into war, contrary to all assessments.
Still, according to the former Air Force chief, “If war breaks out, I do not underestimate the enemy, but impressive capabilities have developed here (in Israel) – not just technologies. The Air Force now knows how to do in 60 hours what took it 32 days to accomplish in the second Lebanon war (July 12, 2006 – August 14, 2006),” he said, adding that Israel had restored its ability to strike with a powerful and surprising force.
Eshel spoke of Israel’s new strategy, of an ongoing campaign which has several characteristics, including the understanding that Israel should take action without accepting responsibility. The former Air Force commander called this “air diplomacy,” explaining that in the current Mideast situation, where Israel shares common interests with Arab countries in the region on the fight against terrorism and against Iran, the capabilities of the air force are critical, but “Air diplomacy allows us not to embarrass our partners.”
He explained that an air operation has a much fainter signature than, say, activating an IDF division. Which is why “The Air Force can accomplish a lot without embarrassing the [Arab] rulers.”
In this context, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eshel said that the “Palestinian” issue still holds great emotional importance among the citizens of the Arab world, and therefore “we cannot expect the Arab leaders who cooperate with us on a number of issues would come out of the closet regarding their ties with Israel as long as the ‘Palestinian’ issue remains unsolved.