CNN is reporting that the mysterious story last week of Israeli aircraft that allegedly violated Syrian airspace was, in fact, an Israeli air strike on an unspecified target in Syria—a strike that might even have involved ground forces. What did the IAF target? The most obvious answer: weapons in transit from Iran to Hizballah that were of sufficient danger to Israel that the mission, even given the serious risks it entailed, was deemed necessary. Iran and Syria have been supplying Hizballah with weapons for years, and, obviously, it has not been Israeli policy regularly to target such smuggling. In this case, I suspect, the weapons in question were long-range guided missiles that would enable Hizballah to threaten Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Specific target information will probably not be forthcoming, but it looks as though the U.S. is happy with the results of the mission:
Sources in the U.S. government and military confirmed to CNN’s Barbara Starr that the air strike did happen, and that they are happy to have Israel carry the message to both Syria and Iran that [it] can get in and out and strike when necessary.
I think an added benefit, and one that was perhaps alluded to by the U.S. in the above quote, is that the mission provided an opportunity to test Syria’s new Russian anti-aircraft system–equipment, incidentally, that Russia has also sold to Iran. Time magazine reports:
In August, Syria reportedly received from Russia the first batch of 50 Pantsyr S1E short-range air defense systems, part of an alleged sale worth almost $1 billion. The deal is said to have been financed by Iran, which reportedly will receive from Syria some of the Pantsyr units and deploy them to protect its nuclear facilities. The recently developed Pantsyr, which its Russian manufacturers claim is immune to jamming, includes surface-to-air missiles and 30mm Gatling guns, providing complete defensive coverage for a range of eleven to twelve miles and six miles in altitude. Pantsyr batteries could pose a serious challenge to either an Israeli or a U.S. air strike on Iran. So were the Israeli aircraft playing a perilous game of chicken to assess the capabilities of the Pantsyr system in response to their countermeasures? Some in Syria believe so.
“There seems to be a consensus here that the Israelis were testing Syrian air defense systems,” Andrew Tabler, Damascus-based editor of Syria Today, told TIME.
If Israel was indeed testing Syria’s (and Iran’s) new air defenses, then those defenses obviously have failed—and badly enough, I hope, to give Syria and Iran a serious case of buyer’s remorse.