As the IDF official said, “We have proven over more than 70 years as a sovereign state that you don’t push us around.”
Could Israeli air strikes in Syria trigger war between Israel and Russia?
Israel remains determined to continue pounding Iranian forces in Syria in a bid to keep Tehran’s forces away from Israel’s northern border. At the same time, Russia has thousands of troops in Syria that could be caught in the crossfire—or even become belligerents if Moscow tires of its Syrian ally being pummeled.
And if Israel and Russia come to blows, would Israel’s big brother—the United States—feel compelled to intervene?
Not that Jerusalem or Moscow are eager for such a fight. “Neither of us desire a military confrontation,” a senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official told me during a recent interview in Jerusalem. “It would be detrimental to both sides.”
Yet Israel’s policy boils down to this: it will do whatever it sees as necessary to eject Iranian forces from Syria. And if Russia doesn’t like it, then that’s just the price of ensuring that Syria doesn’t become another Iranian rocket base on Israel’s border.
Relations between Jerusalem and Moscow are far warmer than during the Cold War. The result is a strange embrace reminiscent of the U.S.-Soviet detente of the 1970s. On the surface, a certain friendliness and desire for cooperation. Yet beneath the smiles is wariness, suspicion and a clash of fundamental interests.
“No one in Israel is confused about who the Russians are and who they are aligned with,” said the IDF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Russians are not our allies, to put it mildly. We have one ally, and that is the United States. The Russians are here for totally different objectives. They are supporting a regime [Syria] that has an outspoken goal of annihilating Israel if it only could. They are also part of a coalition that supports Iran.”
Just how easily Israeli military operations can trigger an incident became evident during a September 2018 strike on ammunition depots in western Syria. Anti-aircraft missiles launched by Syrian gunners accidentally shot down a Russian Il-20 surveillance aircraft, killing fifteen people. Israel denies Russian accusations that it deliberately used the Russian plane as cover, or failed to give Moscow sufficient warning of the raid. Yet Russia still blamed Israel for the mishap and retaliated by supplying advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Nonetheless, Israel sees value in Russia as a potential restraint on Iran, and a possible lever to get Iranian forces out of Syria. After a February meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin to mend fences after the Il-20 incident, Israeli officials claimed Putin had agreed that foreign forces should withdraw from Syria. For Moscow, friendly relations with Israel offer more influence in the Middle East even as America may be scaling down its presence in the region.
Still, the Kremlin has denounced Israeli strikes in Syria as “illegitimate.” Syria has been a Russian ally for more than fifty years, and it was Russian air strikes—along with Iranian and Hezbollah troops—that saved Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s faltering regime from ISIS and other rebel groups. At least 63,000 Russian troops have served in Syria since 2015. Though Putin has promised since 2016 that Russian forces would withdraw, Russia currently retains more than 5,000 troops and private military contractors in Syria, backed by several dozen aircraft and helicopters.
And Russia is in Syria to stay. The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean: in 2016, Moscow and Damascus signed a forty-nine-year agreement that allows nuclear-powered Russian warships to operate from there. In addition, Russian aircraft and surface-to-air missiles, including the long-range S-400 air defense system, operate from at least two air bases in western Syria.
Israel can live with the Russians next door—but not the Iranians. Israeli officials warn of Tehran’s plan to station 100,000 Iranian and allied troops in Syria. Hezbollah, with its estimated arsenal of 130,000-plus rockets, already menaces Israel’s Lebanon frontier. Syria joining Lebanon as a second Iranian rocket base is the stuff of Israeli nightmares.
“We can – and we intend to – make it as difficult as possible and inflict a price tag that the Iranians aren’t willing to pay,” the IDF official said. And the Israeli Air Force has been just doing that, attacking “Iranian and Hezbollah targets hundreds of times,” Netanyahu announced after a devastating attack on Iranian arms depots near Damascus International Airport in January.
“We continue to implement our plans,” the IDF official replied when asked if Russia would deter Israeli raids into Syria. “Our activities suggest that, despite everything, we enjoy significant freedom of action.”
But more telling was his one-word response when asked how willing is Israel to fight for that freedom of action.
There are deconfliction mechanisms in place, including a hotline between the Israeli and Russian militaries. “We are very strict about informing the Russians about our activities and that their operational picture is up to date,” said the IDF official. Yet those procedures were not sufficient to avoid a downing of a Russian plane.
Perhaps that ill-fated Il-20 was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, it is not hard to imagine a multiplicity of equally fatal scenarios. Russian advisers or technicians caught in an Israeli raid on an Iranian or Syrian installation. An errant Israeli smart bomb that hits a Russian base, or a Russian pilot or anti-aircraft battery spooked by a nearby Israeli raid into opening fire. Or, perhaps Russia will just feel obligated to support the prestige of its Syrian ally and its shaky government. Just how incendiary Syrian skies are for everyone became evident in December 2017, when U.S. F-22 fighters fired flares to warn off two Russian Su-25 attack jets that breached a no-go zone in eastern Syria.
To be clear, the IDF is neither boastful nor belligerent about its capabilities versus Russia, a former superpower with the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. The IDF official likened Israel to “The Mouse that Roared,” the classic novel of a tiny nation that challenges the United States.
But if Israel resembles any mouse, it’s Mighty Mouse: small, powerful and not afraid to use its fists. In fact, what makes a potential Israel-Russia battle so dangerous is that it is not hypothetical. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Soviet fighters were sent to Egypt. This led to a notorious July 1970 incident when in a well-planned aerial ambush over the Suez Canal, Israeli fighters shot down five Soviet-piloted MiG-21 jets in three minutes.
On the other hand, Russia doesn’t need to fight Israel to hurt Israel. Indeed, the IDF official seemed less concerned about a physical clash between Israeli and Russian forces, and more concerned that Russia could choose to supply advanced weapons—such as anti-aircraft missiles—to Israeli enemies such as Syria and Iran. In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union supplied numerous air defense missiles and guns to Egypt and Syria, which inflicted heavy losses on Israeli planes in the 1973 October War. If it wants to, Russia can make Israeli air operations very expensive.
As always with the Arab-Israeli (or Iranian-Israeli) conflict, the real danger isn’t the regional conflict, but how it might escalate. In the 1973 war, the Soviets threatened to send troops to Egypt unless Israel agreed to a cease-fire. The United States responded by going on nuclear alert.
Were the Israelis and Russians to come to blows, or if Moscow were to seriously threaten military force against Israel, could the United States risk a grave loss of prestige by not intervening to back its longtime ally? Could Russia—whose Syrian intervention is a proud symbol of its reborn military muscle and great power status—not retaliate for another downed Russian plane or a dead Russian soldier?
Which leads to the ultimate question: could tensions between Israel and Russia lead to a clash between American and Russian troops?
In the end, somebody will have to back down. But Iran isn’t about to give up its outpost on Israel’s border, and Russia probably can’t force them to. Then there is Israel, which is grimly determined to stop Iran.
As the IDF official said, “We have proven over more than 70 years as a sovereign state that you don’t push us around.”
(Photo: Aish.com / YouTube)
Despite advances in modern medicine, China is setting up roadblocks to cope with an outbreak of an ancient plague that once wiped out one-third of the world’s population and may have been one of the plagues that God used to strike Egypt.
Chinese officials installed temperature scanners at airports and checkpoints on main roads in an attempt to stop the spread of Bubonic plague as a fourth case was discovered in less than three weeks. A program to exterminate rats and fleas, which carry the disease, was also launched in Inner Mongolia where the disease seems to be originating.
Demonstrators gather in solidarity with anti-regime protests in Iran outside the Iranian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Reuters / Lehtikuva / Heikki Saukkomaa.
Four human rights lawyers currently imprisoned by the Iranian regime have been awarded with the annual prize of Europe’s most prestigious lawyers’ association.
The Iranian lawyers received the 2019 Human Rights Award from The Council of Bars and Law Societies Of Europe (CCBE) — a body that represents the bars and law societies of 45 countries and through them more than 1 million European lawyers.
The University of Bristol campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Bristol in England has adopted “in full” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, the school’s Epigram independent student newspaper reported on Monday.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Bristol’s Jewish Society (J-Soc) welcomed the move, saying, “The University of Bristol has not been free of antisemitic incidents and the adoption of this definition is an important first step in helping the university tackle anti-Jewish racism. We now expect the university to use this definition in outstanding disciplinary cases.”
Pope Francis Meets Thailand’s Buddhist Patriarch in Golden Temple (screenshot)
Pope Francis topped off his three-day visit to Thailand last Saturday with a meeting with Thailand’s supreme Buddhist patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at Bangkok’s Ratchabophit Temple. The meeting took place in front of a 150-year-old gold statue of Buddha. The Pope followed Buddhist custom by removing his shoes.
During the meeting, the Pope gave the Buddhist Patriarch the Declaration on Human Brotherhood. The Declaration s a joint statement signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, last February in Abu Dhabi. The Pope met with the Imam last month to reinforce the Declaration.
An Israeli company says it is using space travel technology to help solve one of the most pressing problems down on Earth — the reliance on diesel fuel, a major source of pollution.
Israeli startup GenCell has developed an electric generator based on a hydrogen-energy technology used to power some of the most-famous space missions in history.
Jan 21, 2020 0People gather at Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s residence in Monsey, New York, Dec. 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Jeenah Moon. The two police officers who detained the man accused of stabbing five people...
The verse (Deuteronomy 6:4) Shema Yisrael – “Hear Oh Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One” – is understood to (in Wikipedia’s words) “encapsulate the monotheistic essence of Judaism.” It’s understood to be a declaration not only there is one and only one God, but also that God’s oneness is all-inclusive. God includes every particle of existence is within Him. God is not just ruling over the world. God encompasses the world. Time and space and all of us are within God. Nothing stands outside of God’s Oneness, and God encompasses all existence equally
Watching events unfold in Israel is an experience in split-screen living. On the right side of the screen is the chaos outside our gates, in neighboring lands. And on the left side of the screen is the chaos inside.
On the left side of the screen on Tuesday, 15,000 Israelis gathered Tuesday evening outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to demand legal justice for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the face of what they view as an anti-democratic usurpation of political power by Israel’s legal fraternity.
It hard to believe that two weeks ago, Israel was on the brink of war. With the Palestinian Islamic Jihad firing nearly 500 missiles from Gaza into Israel within a 48-hour period, even Tel Aviv was put on alert and certain train routes were canceled. My mind immediately raced to a Christian group I was going to host for Shabbat in Jerusalem Israel – Pastor Leroy Armstrong of Proclaiming the Word Ministries.
Turkey’s little remarked on but ongoing mistreatment of historic churches is increasingly reflective of that nation’s growing sense of Islamic supremacism.
Before the Turks invaded it, Anatolia (present day Turkey) was an ancient Christian region; a large chunk of St. Paul’s epistles were sent to or dealt with its churches, including the seven of the Apocalypse. With the Turks’ conquest, colonization, and subsequent Turkification of Anatolia—hence why it’s now simply called “Turkey”—tens of thousands of churches were systematically desecrated and turned into victory mosques.
Sorek was the grandson of a Rabbi who survived the Holocaust, and was universally described as a kind, gentle soul. His funeral was interrupted by Palestinians shooting off fireworks celebrating his murder.
Two terrorists, including one affiliated with Hamas were arrested for the murder. And at the time, Hamas said in a statement, “We salute the hero fighters, sons of our people, who carried out the heroic operation which killed a soldier of the occupation army,” Hamas said in a statement. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad also hailed the killing as “heroic and bold.”