Over the last two years, Israel has warned about Iran’s entrenchment in Syria. But Iran has continued its role in Syria, and it continues to threaten Israel and transfer precision guidance to Hezbollah for converting its rockets.
Israel has been monitoring Iranian entrenchment in Syria, weapons transfers that move to Iraq and also to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iranian-backed groups in Gaza. On November 12 Jerusalem put in motion operation ‘Black Belt,’ the attack on a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander named Bahaa Abu al-Ata. He was a “ticking bomb,” Israel said after the operation, which led to 450 rockets being fired in retaliation from Gaza. There is another ticking bomb in Syria, where Israel struck numerous targets on November 20, a day after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired rockets at Israel. One false move by Israel or Iran now could lead to a major regional war. Jerusalem must gamble on its precision airstrikes to deter Tehran.
“The Iranian attack towards Israel is further clear proof of the purpose of the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, which threatens Israeli security, regional stability and the Syrian regime,” Israel’s IDF said on Wednesday, November 20. The airstrikes were a major attack on the IRGC’s Quds Force, and also on Syrian air defense systems. Headquarters units, weapons warehouses, and bases were struck. Like in Gaza though, the airstrikes are not unique. Israel has carried out more than one thousand airstrikes in Syria. At the same time, Iran or Iranian-backed groups have sought to attack Israel with rockets and drones five times in the last two years. This includes a drone attack in February 2018, rockets fired in May 2018, a rocket in January 2019, rockets fired in September and on November 19.
Meanwhile in Gaza, the Iranian-backed PIJ has also been upping its rocket attacks. This included PIJ firing rockets in October 2018. It also involves both Hamas and PIJ firing more than 460 rockets in November 2018 and again in May 2019. Hamas and PIJ are both backed by Iran. PIJ has sophisticated rockets that can reach north of Tel Aviv and puts most Israeli large population centers at risk. It has a new rocket with a 300-kilogram warhead it revealed in the recent clashes.
Israel says that it wants to “stabilize” Gaza and create deterrence. Time will tell if that deterrence was achieved. Around two dozen PIJ operatives were killed, Israel says. Several civilians were also killed. But this is a major departure from past conflicts such as 2009, 2012 and 2014 in Gaza. Instead, Israel avoided a major ground operation and it has sought over the past year and a half to do just that. Not fight another war in Gaza. It understands that the major threat is in the north from Iran and Iran’s allies like Hezbollah. Israel’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned in late October that the northern front and Gaza are “fragile” and that war could break out. Iran is a strategic threat, he reiterated. In the first week of November, Israel hosted CENTCOM head Kenneth McKenzie and US Air Force chief of staff David Goldfein visited Israel. Israel also hosted Blue Flag, an exercise with dozens of warplanes from Italy, Greece, the US and Germany, an advanced drill involving F-35s and simulating suppressing air defenses.