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Opinion

Israeli airstrike on Syria shows strategic strength

Despite pledges from Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah that use of force will be met with force, there has been no retaliation since Israel's airstrike inside Syria Jan. 30. Israel clearly retains the strategic high ground in the region, with full knowledge that its enemies are bogged down.

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Not only does Israel know its own strength, it is well aware of its enemies’ weakness. For Hezbollah, times have changed since its glory days in the 2006 Lebanon war. Hezbollah’s leadership knows that a broad conflict with Israel would exact damage on an exponentially higher level than seven years ago, affecting all of Lebanon. Only this time, an increasingly sanctions-hit Iran would be unable to rebuild Lebanon’s infrastructure. And the embattled Assad regime is likely too busy to facilitate the massive smuggling effort that would be needed to restore Hezbollah’s vast arsenal of rockets and missiles.

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Both Hezbollah and Israel understand that the Shiite group’s arsenal is its last card in maintaining its future political strength in Lebanon after the eventual fall of its dictatorial uncle, President Assad, next door. That card should not be played unless absolutely necessary.

The Assad regime meanwhile, knows full well that entering into a conflict with Israel would expedite its ousting. For years, the Israeli Air Force has trained for a conflict with Syria, particularly for a lightning campaign to destroy Assad’s air force, long-range artillery, and chemical weapons if needed. Coincidentally, these weapons and units are all that stand in the way of a Syrian rebel military victory against an Army whose ground troops face increasingly severe manpower shortages.

On Feb. 5, Israel bolstered its anti-missile capabilities near the Lebanese border, adding another Iron Dome and Patriot missile battery to its array defenses. Israeli aircraft are patrolling the skies over the Syrian-Lebanese border, scanning and hunting for any signs that Hezbollah may once again be attempting to transfer game-changing weapons into its arsenals. There should be little doubt in anyone’s mind that those pilots are primed to strike Israel’s enemies again and again. 

Contrary to their statements, Iran and Syria do not have the ability to respond to Israel’s efforts to curb weapons smuggling to Hezbollah. Apart from dispatching their operatives to bomb a synagogue in Eastern Europe or target an Israeli diplomat in West Africa, there is little Hezbollah, the Assad regime, or Iran can do to retaliate against Israel for its very public power play.

Daniel Nisman is the Middle East and North Africa section intelligence manager at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in Tel Aviv. You can follow him on Twitter @dannynis.

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