The Israeli aerial attack that knocked out a Russian-made Syrian anti-aircraft battery on Monday was unusual both for its timing and its substance.
It’s no simple matter to decide on immediate retaliation, all the more so as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrives in Israel.
Nevertheless, the decision was made to respond to the launching of missiles against Israeli Air Force planes, because it is not an option to allow anyone to force Israel to restrict its air or ground operations with impunity.
The incident began when Israeli reconnaissance craft flew over Lebanese air space near the Syrian border within range of the anti-aircraft installation. In a departure from its usual practice of allowing such flights to pass without response, this time the Syrians shot at least one missile at the planes.
The missile was wide of the mark, the planes and their crews were in no danger and returned unharmed to base. After urgent consultations between the military and civilian leadership, it was decided to hit the launching base, which it so happens was the same one which had tried to shoot down Israeli planes that were interdicting a Syrian-Iranian arms shipment to Lebanon a few months ago. The site was hit by four Israeli bombs, which took it out of operation.
In effect, it sent a message not only to the Syrians, but to the Russians and Americans as well, that Israel has the capacity to disrupt any peace agreement in Syria if Israeli security concerns are not taken into account.
The Israeli action was known to the Russians as of Monday morning, when their liaison was notified at the time the IAF planes left on their mission. The Russians did not seek to interfere with the Israeli planes, which accomplished their mission in a very short time and returned to their base.
A few minutes later, the IDF spokesperson called a special conference of Israeli military correspondents, which, besides as an account of the operation itself, was intended to send a message to Damascus that Yerushalayim has no interest in escalating the situation, and that on completion of the retaliation Israel’s role in the matter was over. Unless the Syrians decide on similar attacks in the future, which will force Israel to respond again.