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On The Warpath

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Abdel Bari Atwan

There is nothing new about Israeli missiles striking military targets deep inside Syria. There have been more than 100 such raids in recent years. What is new, and unprecedented, is for missiles fired from Syria to reach the occupied Golan Heights, and for Israel’s Iron Domesystem to fail to intercept some of them. That is what Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman implicitly admitted when he said that ‘some’ of these missiles had been intercepted and destroyed, while others had failed to hit their intended military targets.

If the Iron Domefailed to counter a volley of 20 unsophisticated Iranian-made Gradand Fajrmissiles, one wonders how it would cope if tens of thousands of advanced missiles were launched simultaneously from more than one source.

Lieberman was lying as usual when he claimed that the missiles fired by his warplanes destroyed nearly all Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria. For one thing, half of these missiles were intercepted, according to a Russian defence ministry statement. And secondly, 100 Israeli raids carried out against Syrian and Hezbollah targets in the past few years, which were not intercepted by anyone, did not manage to destroy that ‘infrastructure’  — and it has grown markedly in recent times.

There is no disputing that this exchange of missile attacks places Iran and Israel on the brink of all-out war between the Middle East’s two strongest military powers. This is the first time that Iran enters directly into war with Israel – at a time, ironically, when some Arab regimes are submissively normalizing relations with it, even shamelessly and brazenly applauding its attacks in broad daylight.

The losses sustained on both sides in this missile confrontation are still not known. Israel officially admitted the loss of 30 military personnel, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory spoke of 23 people being killed including 18 Iranians, and the Israeli authorities kept quiet about their losses. But the real gauge in this case is not the human and material losses but the loss of morale, specifically on the Israeli side. It is a big deal for a state obsessed with security and stability, and fearful of the present as much as the future, when the shelters are opened in the occupied Golan, and thousands of settlers resort to them to safeguard themselves from missiles.

What worries the Israeli political and military leadership most is the prospect of Syria turning into a confrontation front at a time when the former Arab ‘confrontation states’ – including the PLO leadership — have submitted to Israeli and American dictates and signed ‘peace treaties’. Its worst fears have been realized by the missile strikes on Syria’s occupied Heights, and by the presence of Qods Brigade commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani in his new headquarters near occupied Palestine’s border with Syria, drawing up attack plans in conjunction with his allied strike-force in South Lebanon.

What happened in the early hours of Thursday was only a rehearsal for a bigger confrontation which we may see unfolding in the days and weeks to come.

Netanyahu and Trump agreed during their first encounter in Washington in March to a plan aimed at exhausting the Iranian regime as a prelude to replacing it. But this plan’s prospects of success have seemed limited until now, especially after the latest setback suffered by its authors in Syria.

A key question arises from the rubble of the Israeli and Iranian missile strikes. Where were Russia’s S-300 missile defence systems in this battle? Why did Moscow not live up to its promise to supply them to Syria if Israeli attacks persisted? Did Netanyahu manage to prevent or hold up their delivery when he visited Moscow and met with President Putin on Wednesday?

We have no answer. All the Russian leadership has said so far is to urge restraint on both the Iranian and Israeli sides. This is insufficient in our view, as Israel is the aggressor and has attacked Syrian as well as Iranian sites.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was the first to foresee this seismic military and political development. In his latest speech four days previously, he remarked that the stage of confronting the patrons (Israel, the US and some of their Arab allies) was beginning, now that the clients (their proxy armed groups in Syria) were being defeated.

If so, it is not unlikely – and to be hoped — that the ‘patrons’ could meet the same fate as the ‘clients’.