The Consequences of Israeli Intervention in Syria

By: LCDR Stipe Skin, HRV Navy, CSAG CCJ5
10 Feb 2021


Over the last five years, Israel has conducted surgical airstrikes against high value targets in Syria. This component of its “war between wars” will soon be challenged by the fielding of Iranian and Russian air defense systems. The new air defense systems are likely to decrease Israel’s ability to deter Iran’s malicious activities in Syria and along Israel’s borders. Israeli intervention has two objectives. The first is disrupting Iranian-backed proxy forces, and restricting the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The Second objective is deterring Shia and Sunni militia from establishing infrastructure, or operational bases near the Israeli borders. Israel believes that by achieving these strategic military objectives, they will prevent the establishment of new threats.

The deployed Russian air defense assets constitute a significant threat to Israeli territory as they offer protection to Iranian proxies. Beyond Russian weapon systems, Iran is providing proxies with their own air defense capabilities. This paper presents the situation in the context of these three main purposes for Israel’s operational approach:

  1. “To diminish Iranian capabilities being shipped to Hezbollah and other Iranian militias working to open a low-intensity military front threatening Israel’s northern border;
  2. To maintain Israel’s freedom of action and air supremacy in its neighborhood and the Middle East in general by minimizing Syrian military capabilities, more specifically anti-aircraft missile sites and their support systems; and
  3. To send a message of deterrence to three main actors in the region: Assad’s regime, Iran and its emissaries, and Russia.

Key Points:

  • Israel’s deterrence of Iranian proxies aligns with the CENTCOM Command Priorities.
  • Israel’s “War between wars” is delivered through surgical airstrikes and is achieving its immediate objectives, but the same success in the future is becoming less likely.
  • The recent influx of modern Russian and Iranian air defense systems makes it increasingly difficult for Israel to gain air supremacy.
  • As the effectiveness of air strikes are to decrease and the risk of greater conflict grows, Israel is shifting towards the cyber domain as a means and ways for Iranian deterrence.

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.