According to the policy of outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, Iranian targets within 50 miles of the Syria border will be attacked It’s a policy learned by the Syrians and the Iranians in May of this year when they fired 20 rockets at IDF positions on the Golan Heights border, and the IDF did not hesitate to retaliate by inflicting serious damage on them, including bombing targets inside the capital, Damascus.
This week, the Iranians again tried to ignore the 50-mile range from the Israeli border and placed forces there, perhaps because they believed that the Russian army would not allow the IDF to operate in Syria – where Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles are deployed.
But the Israeli response was not long in coming, the Syrian army’s radar began to warn of missiles flying towards the Damascus area, and the Syrian air defense batteries started firing SA-5 missiles in all directions without any clear distinction as to what they were firing at.
The Russians seem to have restrained both sides, and the Syrians feared an overwhelming Israeli response enough to prefer to launch SA-5 missiles against the Israeli air force attack, rather than the more accurate and longer-range S-300.
The IDF’s message was sent to the Iranians, and hopefully received: stay out of the 50 mile zone and we won’t hit you.
The Russians, who remain the bosses in southern Syria, limited their response to scolding Israel for endangering the safety of two civilian planes in Damascus when it dropped smart bombs in their vicinity.
The crushing response of the IDF is very important following President Trump’s announcement of the US withdrawal from Syria: the IDF explicitly stated that with and without an American presence, it would not hesitate to attack Iranian targets in Syria, and with significant force.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: an anonymous Israeli security source recently said that although the Russians are trying to limit the IDF’s activity in Syria, and of course condemn it, senior Russian commanders on the ground in Syria actually admire the IDF and its aggressive style – as long as the IDF does not shoot down Ilyushin planes, of course, as happened last September.
In the existing security mix, it is also important to remember that if Syria decides to use its S-300 missiles, it could have a game changing effect. Last February, a Syrian missile intercepted an Israeli F-16. Another similar success would force the Air Force to attack the missile batteries, apparently operated by Russian soldiers.
There are no dull moments on the Israeli-Syrian border, and the winter of 2019 looks like it comes bearing unusually un-dull gifts.