January 14, 2021
An airstrike over the Golan Heights. (File photo: AP)
The strike on Iranian assets in Syria on Wednesday, widely attributed to Israel, had two targets: a kinetic one, namely the pro-Iranian militias based on in the Syria-Iraq border; and a diplomatic one — the incoming Biden administration in the US.
This was the fourth attack of this kind this month attributed to Israel and by far the most extensive of them. The targets posed a greater operational challenge as they were far deeper behind enemy lines. This means the IAF mostly likely had to coordinate with other forcers present in the area, including the US, which controls much of the relevant airspace.
This is probably why unnamed officials told US media the latter had provided intelligence for the operation.
That claim should be taken with a grain of salt: Israel's intelligence in the sector and on this specific enemy is superior to the Americans' meaning the strike was, most likely an Israeli production — but the Americans were notified ahead of time.
Such intelligence sharing on Iran is prevalent between Israel and the US, and it was most likely the reason for the highly publicized meeting between US Secretary of Stake Mike Pompeo and Mossad Director Yossi Cohen in Washington, on Tuesday.
Pompeo later exposed Iran's ties with al-Qaida.
Wednesday's wide-scale strike reportedly eliminated infrastructure used by pro-Iranian militias in al-Bukamal and Deir ez-Zur — areas that have been targeted in the past over Iran's growing presence there.
Iran focuses its activities on the Syrian-Iraqi border, assuming that Israel would find it harder to strike the area that it does near Damascus.
This is a limitation, but not a hindrance: the IAF has proven before that its reach stretches farther than anyone believes, and Israeli Military Intelligence has rarely does information in the region escape its gathering capabilities.
Iran, however, remains undeterred. Those who have claimed it was minimizing its presence in Syria are proven wrong time and again. The Israeli strikes make life more complicated for the ayatollahs but they remain determined to tighten their grip on Syria and arm Hezbollah in Lebanon — Iran's primary proxy in the region.
For Israel, this means it must continue fostering proactive policy in the northern sector, although the Biden administration will most likely not be as supportive of the Trump cabinet.
Biden is a longtime friend of Israel but as president, the relationship with him will be different, especially given his intention to renegotiate a deal with Iran.
The recent strikes apparently seek to make it clear to Biden that Israel will not relent with respect to its leeway in Syria, knowing that anyone who does not thwart terrorism on the Syria-Iraq border will meet it again on the Syria-Israel border.