Set aside for one moment the celebrations here regarding the successful interception by the Arrow missile defense system of a Syrian missile early Friday. Israel has no shortage of reasons to be concerned by “the message” involved in Syria’s firing of surface-to-air missiles at Israeli fighter jets overnight. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the increasingly worrying situation taking shape in the north.
Pre-dawn Friday was not the first time Israeli jets have hit targets in Syria, but it is the first time that Syrian President Bashar Assad has chosen to respond, firing several SA-5 surface-to-air missiles at the departing warplanes.
It would seem that Assad wants to put Israel on notice that he no longer intends to sit idly by while weapons convoys headed from Syria to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon are destroyed by the IDF.
According to Arab-language media reports, the target of the Israeli airstrike — which is said to have occurred near the Lebanese town of Baalbek — was a convoy of trucks carrying “strategic weapons,” a term which Israel has previously used to define advanced missiles and chemical weapons.
In the past, Assad has rarely responded to reported Israeli air and missile strikes on targets deep within Syria.
His apparent growing confidence would appear to come from his recent successes in defeating rebel groups and the Islamic State in the brutal Syrian civil war, thanks largely to massive Russian support.
It is unlikely that there was any Russian involvement in firing the missiles at the Israeli jets. Israel works very hard to coordinate with Moscow to ensure no accidental clashes with the superpower in Syria’s crowded skies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a frequent visitor to Moscow, most recently last week where he went to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to try and prevent Israel’s arch-foe Iran from filling the vacuum in Syria left by the nearly vanquished Islamic state.
These concerns show that the use of surface-to-air missiles against Israeli fighter planes is only a minor headache for Israel.
A much greater problem for the Jewish state lies with a report published earlier this week in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida that Iran has established rocket factories in Syria and Lebanon capable of producing long-range missiles.
According to the al-Jarida report, the missile production facilities are built deep underground and are operated by advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as Lebanese experts trained at the Imam Hossein University in Tehran, a key training institution for IRGC personnel.
The goal of these factories is said to be to produce highly accurate missiles and rockets capable of striking strategic targets in Israel, and if reports leaking out in the Arab-language media are true, then it is safe to say these factories will not be easily destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.
The Iranian missile factories in Syria and Lebanon also correspond with Iran’s desire to establish a naval port in Syria to be leased for 50 years, which would help Iran guarantee its interests in the war-torn nation.
All of this points to a trend that we will likely see much more of in 2017: as the Islamic State terror group gets weaker, the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran expands and gets stronger.