By Joshua Tartakovsky
3 November 2015
The recent Israeli air strikes in violation of Syria’s sovereignty raise the question of whether Russian-Israeli collaboration is coming to an end or whether it was part of a mutually accepted agreement. On October 31, Israeli planes attacked two military facilities, which Haaretz claimed belonged to the Syrian Arab Army and to Hezbollah, in the two separate areas of Ras al-Ein and al-Qatifa in the Al-Qalamoun mountains. This was the first Israeli airstrike in Syria following the launching of Russia’s military operations against Western-backed terrorists in the country.
In September 21, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rushed to meet with Russian President Putin, with three senior defense figures after he realized that Russia will intervene in Syria. Initially, Netanyahu may have tried to dissuade Putin, but the latter explained that Syria does not pose a danger to Israel as it is currently fighting for its survival. Some have argued that in the meeting Israel agreed to share intelligence with Russia on jihadist groups in Syria and that in return Russia agreed to turn the other way when Israel bombs arms which were may be transferred to Hezbollah. And yet, several days ago, Israel struck bases of the Syrian Arab Army. Does this mean that the Israeli-Russian agreement collapsed or is Israel operating within the agreed parameters?
The Middle East Monitor reported that Netanyahu and Putin agreed to “allow the Israeli air force to carry out operations freely in Syria, even in areas where the Russian army is stationed on the Syrian coast”. But the problem is that in this case Israel attacked arms of the 155th Brigade of the Syrian Arab Army. It is hard to imagine that Israel would take on such a risky endeavor without informing Russian forces in the area. Hezbollah and the Syrian Arab Army have been fighting jointly and Israel is not supposed to interfere with Hezbollah’s military actions against jihadist terrorists. At the same time, Israeli defense minister Yaalon sees Hezbollah as a bigger threat to Israel than ISIL and supposedly Israel was given a reluctant green light to prevent arms from reaching Hezbollah. It does not make much sense that Israel will break its agreement with Russia this quickly when the latter is now a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and will have a major influence on the future of Syria, but it seems that Israel intends to carry out to the full its ability to bomb arms that are in the hands of Hezbollah. At the same time, Hezbollah has never fired on Israel from Syria as it has been busy liberating towns from the hands of jihadists. This was an attack on bases, not on arms that were being transported to South Lebanon. These actions may have taken place due to the insistence of Israeli minister Ya’alon. Israel may be operating within the set parameters agreed upon with Russia but it appears that it also may be pushing the limit.