CULTURAL PRISM: What to know about the Israeli-Syrian escalation

A step-by-step guide to the recent escalations up north.

February 10, 2018 17:34
CULTURAL PRISM: What to know about the Israeli-Syrian escalation

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Brief recap

An Iranian drone / UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) penetrated Israeli air space early Saturday morning from Syria, and was intercepted by an Israeli Air Force Apache attack helicopter. Israel destroyed the Iranian ground station from where the drone was launched and other Iranian components deep inside Syria, as well as several Syrian air-defense sites. An Israeli F-16 was downed over Israeli territory by a Syrian ground-to-air missile and the pilots ejected.

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Is the downing of the jet the most significant event today?

No. Of all developments, the most significant is the unmasking of Iranian intentions and actions. Iran no longer only funds, directs and influences proxies, but directly threatens and confronts Israel with “boots on the ground,” and violates Israeli sovereignty. Their goal is regional hegemony, and they are building and strengthening their presence and assets throughout the Middle East.

Doesn’t the downing of an Israel jet deliver a devastating blow to Israel?

No. Just as a downed American jet in Afghanistan or a Russian jet in Syria are viewed as an inevitable, inherent part of war. Israeli dominance in the sky is overwhelming and impressive. We have state-of-the-art detection and deflection systems, and carry out missions wherever necessary throughout the Middle East. But nothing is foolproof. In war you lose tanks, ships and planes.

But doesn’t this mean that you lose in a cost-effectiveness calculation? An F-16 costs more than a drone.

No. Because the goal is our sovereignty and fulfilment of the historic role of reestablishing our ancestral homeland. If this was about financial efficiency, or prosperity, we could have moved to Canada or Denmark. By the way, each improvised rocket fired at Israel by terrorists, costs several hundred dollars, and is shot down by an advanced interceptor which costs tens-of-thousands of dollars. Moreover, defense is always more expensive than offense, as you must carry out broad activities against an unknown random threat.

Was Iran’s objective to collect intelligence or could this have been an armed UAV with a designated target?

Neither. Iran’s objective was to further test Israeli capabilities and resolve, as a component in their operations throughout the region.

Isn’t it a problem that Iran and Hezbollah can send drones into Israel?

No. It has been demonstrated yet again the Israel has a superb air defense array capable of detecting, tracking and destroying aerial threats. Drones are easy to operate. But despite their growing significance, they do not pose a serious threat. As of now their impact has been more perceptional. But shooting them down is challenging, and this challenge has been met successfully by Israel, time and time again.

Wasn’t targeting the Iranian ground station overdoing it and pushing it?

No. This is totally consistent with Israeli doctrine - if you target Israel you will be targeted back. Not only were we able to detect and intercept a small UAV, but we knew exactly where it was launched from and who was controlling it. The fact that we had this information and were able to act on it and strike these components deep inside Syria demonstrates an incredible operational capability. So, Iran’s message has been answered with a message of our own, and I have no doubt that it has been received in Tehran.

Does it look like this may escalate to war?

No. The actors have no interest to escalate to an all-out war with Israel. Syria, Hezbollah and Iran have too much to lose. Of course, a miscalculation may always trigger broader ramifications than intended, but I believe this is not the case. This falls in the category of “day of battle.”

Is Israel’s ultimate goal to restore peace and quiet?

No. Israel’s goal is sustaining and protecting the homeland and Israeli citizens and residents. Our sovereignty and very existence are constantly questioned and challenged.

We are in fact engaged in a prolonged campaign of various intensities, from what we call “routine security” to all-out war. In recent years, the “campaign between wars” has become a key factor in promoting Israeli interests, thwarting emerging threats. Of course we dream of peace, strive to prolong periods of “calm” and promote stability, but “quiet” is certainly not our ultimate goal - at least not a temporary quiet which can be exploited for building dangerous capabilities.

Is it true that there’s not much Israel can do to prevent Iranian entrenchment?

No. Israel has been working closely with allies on the diplomatic front, and making very clear moves on the ground, demonstrating what the red lines are and the ramifications of crossing them. Of course, there is a limit to our influence, and our leadership must make tough decisions, but we are certainly influential, not only consequential.

Is it true that Israel’s strategic environment is more vulnerable than ever before?

No. On the contrary. Most strategic analysts assess that Israel’s strategic posture has never been better - as far as regional opportunities, military might, technological dominance and international allies. Still, a positive strategic posture does not necessarily mean peace and quiet and we certainly may be faced with war in the near future.

Israeli politicians have been talking about how devastating the next war will be. Doesn’t this mean an existential threat to Israel?

No. Absolutely not. The next war will certainly be difficult, and the Israeli home-front will sustain an unprecedented barrage of rockets and missiles. But I believe that Israelis will pull through and demonstrate resilience. However painful, the state of Israel does not face an existential threat, which may only materialize if Iran ever acquires nuclear weapons. This is why we must do whatever it takes to deny them such capabilities.

Was there a wide scale evacuation of civilians in the north?

No. Thousands of Israelis and tourists enjoyed a beautiful sunny day, including on the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon. I would say that this is the most important response to Iran’s message.

The writer is a cross-cultural strategist.

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