How the situation in Ukraine could impact Israel’s strategies for Syria and Iran

An explosion in Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Israeli-Syrian border is seen from Israel’s Golan Heights on July 22, 2018. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

TEL AVIV: As in the rest of the world, the Israeli defense establishment is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and working hard to understand what a potential conflict between Moscow and Kiev, and Washington’s response, could mean for the interests of Israel.

More than many nations, Israel could find itself in a difficult position. On the one hand, the United States is Israel’s greatest ally and longtime patron. At the same time, Jerusalem must maintain good relations with Moscow, in order to retain the ability to launch military strikes against Iranian interests in Syria, where Russia largely controls the airspace.

If the United States called for broad sanctions against Russia, for example, Jerusalem would have to carefully weigh any major advances; any action against Russia could lead to the blocking of Israeli operations in Syria – potentially endangering military personnel if they carry out operations that Jerusalem considers vital to its own national security.

In particular, a senior defense source said Israel is currently underway with a series of strikes against Iranian-made rocket shipments en route to Lebanon, including one as late as Tuesday Washington time. . This operation requires continued coordination between Tel Aviv and Moscow to avoid harming Russian troops in Syria, which would cross a red line for Moscow and jeopardize the ability to conduct other operations.

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Concerns about what could happen to Syrian operations if relations with Russia change were “raised recently at some high-level defense meetings, at which key decision makers were present,” the defense source told Breaking. Defense.

Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former head of Israel’s National Security Council, said that if Washington asked Israel to participate in sanctions against Russia, Jerusalem would be in a very “impossible” situation.

Even mild sanctions could hurt Israel’s standing with Russia, and potentially, its tech industry. Although Russia has not purchased Israeli-made weapons since 2015, non-military technology is regularly sold to Russian companies.

Israel also sees the Ukraine situation as a potential distraction for Washington, as Jerusalem makes its plans for how to react to a new nuclear deal with Iran. This week, officials involved in the negotiations told the press that the issue of a new deal with Iran was coming to a head. Although Israel has made it clear that it is not in favor of such an agreement, but has been relatively calm about it so as not to anger Washington.

In a new article published this week, Efraim Inbar, president of the Institute for Strategy and Security in Jerusalem, noted that Iran was also monitoring the situation in Russia and seeing how distracted Washington was. It’s possible, Inbar wrote, that Iran will try to push for a tougher deal at the Vienna talks, knowing the Biden team could desperately use a geopolitical victory.

While defense sources tell Breaking Defense that Israel does not plan to directly attack Iranian nuclear sites if a new agreement is signed, plans are underway to intensify sabotage efforts that would seek to damage nuclear sites. and centrifuges in Iran. These operations would begin if an agreement is reached that Israeli judges allow Iran to successfully create a nuclear weapon.

As a second source put it, the current plans “will take the shadow war to new heights.” And if that happens, intelligence and defense planners here operate on the assumption that Iranian proxies will step up attacks on Israeli targets in retaliation.

Moredchai Kedar, one of Israel’s top experts on Middle Eastern issues, told Breaking Defense that “Washington will try to prevent Israel from continuing the shadow war against Iran. This is the cause of major concern in Jerusalem, and it could create friction between the United States and Israel.

And Eiland, the former National Security Council official, said regional powers in the Middle East are looking to see how the United States will ultimately support Ukraine.

“They see what happened in Afghanistan and how the Americans are not responding to attacks on their forces in Iraq,” Eiland said. “It mostly leads the Saudis to think that one option for them is to improve their relations with Iran.”

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