Unflinching Opposition

The masks are off. On Wednesday night, Israel responded to a salvo of missiles fired on the northern border area by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Syria, with an extensive series of air strikes spanning several hours. And this time it didn’t hide behind ambiguity.

The IDF dropped its policy of vagueness and asserted responsibility for the devastating retaliation, claiming to have hit 50 Iranian targets and set the Islamic Republic’s military buildup in Syria back by months.

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Israel made it abundantly clear that it would not tolerate attacks on its infrastructure, whether military or civilian, and would exact immediate and forceful retaliation. As Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman put it so artfully, Israel would make sure that “if it rains in Israel, it will flood in Syria.”

Was the message received? The coming days will tell if the nighttime barrage that Iranian media characterized as “a successful strike on the Zionist entity territory in the occupied Golan Heights,” was a token payback for Israel killing its troops in a previous air strike in April, or the start of a wider escalation.

While the common wisdom among military experts and defense analysts is that everyone, including Tehran, wants this clash contained, war cannot be ruled out.

For now it appears that Tehran is ready to act through its proxies: foreign Shi’ite militias in Syria in the case of Israel, and Houthi rebels in Yemen in the case of Saudi Arabia, but every round of violence provides further reason for a counterattack.

At what point will Iranian ego demand action that would further raise the stakes? That ego has received a pretty severe bruising in the last week, if you combine the insult of the Israeli air campaign with the US President Trump’s pulling out of the P5+1 nuclear deal.

Israel’s successful retaliation is a testament to its military power, but it seems the real win here came from the diplomatic groundwork. Not a single country issued a condemnation of Israel’s action, though Iranian ally Hamas did. Washington, Berlin and other Western capitals made a point of defending Israel’s right to act against threats to its security, and, perhaps most tellingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Wednesday’s trip to Moscow appeared to result in a Russian green light for the operation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who calls the shots in Syria, may not go as far as expelling Iran’s militias from the country, but all indications are he won’t protect them from Israeli retaliation either.

In Israel the hope is that this round of fighting is over, but officials have said all along that Iranian entrenchment in Syria is unacceptable.

Though it is used to living under the threat of war, Israel, like any other country, cannot live with a powerful and genocidal organization like the al-Quds Force carving out a home for itself mere kilometers from its border communities.

If given the chance, the Iranian forces will dig themselves deeper into the Syrian landscape and, if experience is any indication, will attempt to embed themselves into the civilian population, making it harder for Israel to respond without inflicting collateral damage.

Israel cannot afford to allow the situation in Syria to become the new normal. The residents of the north of Israel, some of whom spent Wednesday night in bomb shelters, deserve to live in peace. But temporary reprieve from limited salvos by Tehran’s proxies cannot replace the lasting quiet brought about by an uprooting of Iranian forces within range of the border.

The people of Katzrin, Kiryat Shmona, Metulla, Safed and the smaller communities spread across the Golan Heights and the Northern Galilee have proven their resilience many times in the past, and the rest of the country has proven its willingness and ability to aid them in times of crisis.

If Iran decides to further retaliate, it will discover unity among the Israeli people in the face of the threat.

This weekend our hearts will once again be with the residents of the North, hoping for calm, but resolute in opposition to Iran’s poisonous plots.