Rise in Israeli strikes in Syria has led to decrease of Iranian activity

Over 500 strikes on all fronts, but "we still have a long way to go to complete our goals," says IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.

An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel June 30, 2016. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel June 30, 2016.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Iran’s entrenchment in Syria is slowing down as a result of ongoing IDF operations which have increased over the past year, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi announced Friday. The IDF chief also revealed for the first time that the military has been carried out cyberattacks. 
“The Iranian entrenchment in Syria is in a clear slowdown as a result of IDF activity, but we still have a long way to go to complete our goals in this arena,” he said.
The past year has seen an increase in pace and quality of Israeli strikes against Iranian assets in Syria, including kinetic operations as well as an expansion of both covert and clandestine ones.
“We have struck over 500 targets this year, on all fronts, in addition to multiple clandestine missions,” Kochavi said.
Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as its aspirations of regional hegemony, and has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of its “war-between-wars” campaign (known as MABAM in Hebrew) to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria, where they could easily act against Israel.
Not only have the strikes in Syria destroyed an immeasurable amount of advanced weaponry, but in recent months, Iran has also significantly reduced the number of cargo flights into Syria which are used to smuggle weapons into the war-torn country.
Iranian bases, camps and headquarters have also been moved from the area around Damascus towards the northern and eastern parts of Syria, and the number of Iranian troops and militia members has also shrunk considerably.
And while the IDF has publicly claimed operations in Syria, they have remained mum when foreign reports have blamed Israel’s war-between-wars for strikes in countries far from its borders.
But in a subtle hint, Kochavi admitted that Israel has acted in other countries, saying that “we operate in six areas intensively. There are arenas with activities on a daily basis and there are those with weekly or monthly activities.”
“The Middle East is the most divided and violent region in the world,” Kochavi said, adding that “most of the countries surrounding Israel have areas without governance, and that challenges us to operate with ‘classic’ measures.”
According to the IDF chief, Israel’s military has also “carried out many offensive operations” in the cybersphere, which he said is “the most significant combat arena that has changed this year.”
In late June, as part of the IDF’s Momentum multi-year plan, the military opened the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, an entirely new position on the General Staff, which focuses principally on Israel’s fight against Iran.
The new directorate under the command of Brig.-Gen. Tal Kalman is expected to bolster the IDF’s attack capabilities.
But even before the directorate became operational, Israel was accused of launching a major cyberattack on Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port, near the coastal city of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, causing chaos for days after the facility’s computer system crashed after being suddenly hit by hackers on May 9.
A series of mysterious “accidents” targeting Iran’s missile and nuclear program over the summer led many to wonder if the IDF’s war-between-wars campaign has expanded to target key nuclear sites.
While Defense Minister Benny Gantz denied any Israeli role in the incidents, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meanwhile hinted otherwise, saying at the Maariv conference in July that “we have a long-term policy over the course of many administrations not to allow Iran to have nuclear abilities. This [Iranian] regime with those abilities is an existential threat to Israel... We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
Like Israel’s war-between-wars campaign, those who carry out cyberattacks usually do so far from the target and anonymously in order to allow for some plausible deniability to prevent an escalation.
Despite the ongoing tensions in the North, the IDF views the overall strategic-security situation as having improved compared to previous years.
“We conclude a year in which we successfully met the IDF’s first mission - to provide protection and security,” said Kochavi, adding that “we prevented all attempts to infiltrate into the State of Israel and saw a decrease in the number of casualties and rocket fire on Israel. “
In the Gaza Strip, for example, 2019 saw the most serious peak of violence between Israel and terror groups since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Dozens of rounds of violence saw about 1,300 rockets fired. Seven Israeli civilians and two IDF soldiers were also killed, the highest number of casualties since Operation Protective Edge.
But, over the past year, rocket attacks have decreased, with 174 fired in 2020, and terror attacks in the West Bank have also decreased significantly, claiming the lives of one Israeli civilian and one IDF soldier.
Touching on the recent normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, two countries who also view Iran as hostile, the chief of staff said that the moves “have a positive impact on alliances and security aspects in the Middle East.”