For years, Israel’s Military Censor has prevented journalists from reporting about Israel Air Force strikes in Syria aimed at foiling the transfer of advanced weapons to the Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah.
But, on Monday, while attending an IDF tour on the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel has attacked dozens of weapons deliveries on their way to Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.
“We act when we should act, including here, across the border, in dozens of attacks, to prevent Hezbollah from getting game-changing weaponry,” the premier said, referring mainly to long-range missiles, as well as anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems.
While it’s true that Israeli media have reported on past Syrian operations, this was done on the condition that the information was sourced from “foreign reports.”
It is more than likely that Netanyahu had not discussed the revelations with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon or IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, neither of whom accompanied the premier on his sojourn in the North.
It is not the first time Netanyahu has alluded to Israeli operations in Syria, however. In December 2015, he stated: “Israel is operating to prevent Syria’s transformation into a front fighting against us.”
Yet, it was Monday’s clear admission regarding Israel Air Force operations against Hezbollah targets that has undermined the military’s effort to keep such actions out of the media.
It is difficult to know whether the prime minister decided to expose the secret information after a comprehensive debate with authorized security officials – mainly Eisenkot, Ya’alon and IDF intelligence officials – nor why he chose now to reveal such details.
Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: The situation in Syria has not changed considerably over the past several months apart from the existence of a fragile cease-fire between the Assad regime and the rebel factions, which does not apply to Islamic State or the Nusra Front.
Thus, Netanyahu’s declarations on Monday have left observers scratching their heads, wondering why he exposed such sensitive information.
There was a healthy logic in the Israeli “ambiguity” policy regarding the attacks in Syria that aimed to achieve military goals by destroying supplies of advance weapons while not claiming responsibility so as to not humiliate Syria or Hezbollah and, thus, reduce their temptation to respond.
In any case, it is clear that the situation on Israel’s border on the Golan Heights has not changed and, therefore, the prime minister’s statement is surprising.
Clearly, the Assad regime and Hezbollah will not like Netanyahu’s remarks. His comments portray them as weak for not responding to the Israeli air strikes. Obviously, Bashar Assad and Hezbollah have no desire or intention, even if they have the capability, to attack Israel on the grounds of violating Syria’s sovereignty, or what is left of it.
However, given the fragile balance of threats and intimidation between Israel on the one hand, and the Shi’ite Lebanese terrorist group along with the Damascus regime on the other, the premier took a big risk with his remarks.
This is not the first time that Netanyahu has decided to reveal state secrets suddenly and for no apparent reason, except to clip proverbial political coupons. He has divulged classified information more than once over the past two decades.
Once, when serving as the leader of the opposition, Netanyahu disclosed a leaked Knesset document attributed to IDF Brig-Gen.
Zvi Shtauber regarding alleged plans for a meeting in Washington between then-IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and his Syrian counterpart.