Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned about Israel’s repeated attacks in Syria, he said, after talking for an hour and-a-half with President Barack Obama early Tuesday, Sept. 29, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Putin agreed that Israel’s security concerns must be taken into account in Syria, but he was worried by the IDF’s periodic strikes on positions in the embattled territory.
Sunday night, the IDF hit Syrian military targets with powerful Tamuz artillery rockets after two errant Syrian rockets landed on the Golan...hit the artillery command post of the Syrian army’s 90th Brigade, which is stationed outside Quneitra. Syrian and Lebanese sources say the Syrian deputy commander was injured.
The message the Russian president issued, straight after his meeting with Obama, was that Moscow would not put up with Israeli strikes in Syria, even in response to an attack.
This comment and the events leading up to it raise four questions:
1. Why did Putin take the trouble to respond in person to a trivial incident like a cross-border exchange of fire on the Golan directly after his highly-important talks with Obama?
2. Why was he so concerned by this incident? It occurred just a week after the Russian president and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had agreed in Moscow to set up a coordination mechanism to prevent clashes between IDF and Russian forces. And in any case Russian forces were not involved.
3. What was behind statement issued by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon after the incident, in which he stressed with unusual emphasis Israel’s zero tolerance of Syrian rocket infractions of its sovereignty?
4. The two highly-charged statements were obviously occasioned by much more than errant cross-border fire from the Syrian side of the Golan.
Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag at his meeting with Putin last week at the Russian presidential residence outside Moscow. The prime minister disclosed his knowledge that Gen. Azadi had come to replace Gen. Ali Allah Dadi, who died on Jan 18 in an Israeli air strike against a convoy carrying Iranian Guards and Hizballah commanders traveling near Quneitra. They were there to survey a site for mounting a terrorist campaign inside Israel.
The Israeli air strike nipped this plan in the bud. But Iran and Hizballah never gave up, and Gen. Azadi was assigned to finish setting up the terror machine and getting it up and running.
A week ago, Netanyahu gave Putin notice that Israel would not let this happen – even if this meant disposing of another Iranian general.
The Russian leader explained that Israel’s attacks on Iranian military targets presented a problem because they weakened Bashar Assad.
As matter stand therefore, Russia and Israel are on a collision course:
While Israel views Gen. Azadi as a menacing adversary, Putin regards him as part of the Russian-Iranian axis in Syria and wants Israel to keep its hands off him. This point is of such paramount importance to the Russian leader’s plans for Syria that he made a big deal of it at the highest international forum - almost as a sequel to his first meeting with President Obama in more than a year.
The Syrian rocket fire Friday and Saturday was not in fact “errant” as the IDF spokesman maintained. The rockets were fired on the orders of Iranian Brig. Azadi as a demonstration that Israel’s warning to Putin was a waste of time and he meant to go forward with his operation regardless.
Netanyahu and Ya’alon conveyed their message of resistance to this operation by instructing the IDF to hit back with the Tamuz rocket, a system powerful enough to give the other side pause and present Putin with an unforeseen complication in his Syrian venture.
Israeli Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz will tell the United States, Russia and other world powers Israel will not tolerate Iranian forces near its border, the Jerusalem Times reported on Tuesday.
Steinitz made the remark as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
“In all of our discussions, first and foremost with the United States, but also with Russia and the rest of the world powers, we must make sure that the Iranian forces will stay in Iran,” Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio.
“Nobody wants to see Russian forces in the area of the Golan Heights, but we definitely don’t want to see Iranian forces near Israel,” he added.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Monday Syria had crossed a “red line” in its battle with proxy forces attempting to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
“Israel does not intend to ignore these incidents. We see the Syrian government as responsible for what happens in Syrian territory,” Yaalon said.
In August it was reported that Israel is preparing for a possible ground invasion of Syria.
The Israelis began large division-scale training in the occupied Golan Heights in mid-August under the pretext ISIS may invade and also citing the presence of Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
“In the scenarios envisioned by the IDF, heavily-armed terrorist cells would infiltrate the Israeli side of the Golan and attack Jewish and Druze villages there, necessitating a strong Israeli response in Syria,” Israel Today reported on August 17.
The announcement of invasion preparations coincide with the possibility Israel my move its borders east “to protect the Druze and other non-hostile populations that are today threatened by the Islamists,” the website reported.
On Tuesday Israel Today reported the country “fears unintentional exchanges of fire between its own forces and the Russian military in Syria. Such a flare-up between Israeli and Iranian forces could give Tehran the excuse it needs to launch a long-range missile assault on the Jewish state.”
The Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai has cited “official sources” as saying Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia have launched a “joint operations room” to coordinate their campaign to defeat the Islamic state.
The Times of Israel reported on Saturday:
The newspaper quotes official sources as saying that each party will be responsible for particular areas of Syria, with Russia operating in Latakia, Hama and some parts of the Aleppo province, while Iran will be defending the capital Damascus and down to Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. The report also states that some 100 Iranian special forces trained in urban warfare have arrived in Damascus
Israel claims the Syrian Army has received “substantial support” from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and “most notably fellow Iranian client Hezbollah,” the paramilitary group formed after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
The Kuwaiti report also said the Syrian military has given dozens of Soviet-era tanks tanks to Hezbollah.
The Times of Israel reiterated the possibility Israel may conduct ground operations in the Golan and Syria.
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