Syrian air defenses respond to Israeli missile strikes over the capital, Damascus, November 20, 2019. (Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua via Getty Images)

IRGC in Syria Gets Targeted Again

Middle East experts say Iran has changed its military strategy with Israel

The Israeli military reports that it launched dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and Syrian military targets in and around the capital Damascus on Wednesday. This was in response to four rockets fired from Syria toward the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli airstrikes killed 23 people, among them 16 “non-Syrians” – most likely Iranians. However, Syrian state media reported that two civilians were killed and several wounded in the Israeli attacks, and that most of the Israeli missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defenses.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, a Syrian analyst and the editor-in-chief of Rai al-Youm, an Arab world news and opinion website, told The Media Line that the Syrian-Iranian rules of [military] engagement with Israel are changing: Iran is moving from a defensive posture to an offensive one.

“The Syrian-Israeli front has entered a stage of escalation, and the Israeli response expands the range of [any] military confrontation,” Atwan said.

He said that the escalation is a significant development, especially given that Russia has criticized the Israeli action, stating officially that the Israeli policy of airstrikes is wrong. “Israel took advantage of the uprising in Lebanon and Iran and struck hard, believing that Tehran and Damascus are living a state of confusion. Therefore, it responded broadly,” Atwan said.

“Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is worried due to Israel’s internal political crisis [the failure to form a coalition government after two rounds of elections] in addition to the latest escalation in the Gaza Strip. He is facing the crisis showing that he’s strong, not afraid and firing rockets, so the Israelis will re-elect him,” Atwan added.

However, he said, the extent of escalation will be determined by how Iran and Syria respond to Israel’s latest actions.

“The IDF remains ready for various scenarios. It will continue to work for the security of the citizens of the State of Israel as long as it is necessary,” the Israeli military said in a statement published on Wednesday. It further said that Israel issued clear warnings to the Syrian side to avoid using its surface-to-air missiles during the raids, and that because the warnings were ignored, several Syrian air defense batteries were destroyed.

Israel says it has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria to prevent the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from establishing a permanent presence there and to disrupt shipments of advanced weapons from Iran to the Lebanese Shi’ite armed group, Hizbullah.

Moshe Marzouk, an Israeli political analyst, confirmed to The Media Line that Iran is changing tactics vis-à-vis Israel. Whereas previously, Tehran acquired and positioned weapons and prepared attacks as a form of intimidation, now, it is actually launching rockets against Israeli territories. “This attack is an escalation, and indicates future intentions.”

Marzouk said that Israel responded harshly and without hesitation to make clear that any Iranian aggression against it would be similarly countered. And, Marzouk said, the Israeli response would not necessarily be limited to Syria “but might reach Iran itself.”

However, Nizar Abd al-Qader, a Lebanese strategic and security expert who served in the Lebanese army, told The Media Line that Israel would never attack Iranian soil without an American guarantee of protection, and the latter isn’t interested in getting dragged into war.

“Additionally, Iran can’t be seeking a war with Israel, especially in the current circumstances and from Syria, since Iran is the weaker side there,” Abd al-Qader said. While Iran has a large presence in Syria, it does not have the qualitative military edge that would enable Tehran to wage war. In particular, it doesn’t have an effective air defense against Israeli aircraft. Thus, Israel has the upper hand there.

“The Israelis launched over 200 attacks and Iran couldn’t shoot down a single plane,” Abd al-Qader noted.

“Israel feels Iran’s presence in Syria and Iraq, as well as Lebanon and Gaza, which allows Tehran to carry out limited military operations against Israel,” Abd al-Qader said. But, he asserted, if Iran were to launch attacks from Iraq or Syria that target vital Israeli installations, as it did against the Saudi oil installations, Israel would wage a war not only against Iran but against its presence everywhere, including Syria and Iraq, as well as Lebanon and Gaza.

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