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Backlash; Could the West’s April 14th Strike on Syria Seriously Compromise Israel’s Security? Part One

April 17th - 2018

On the morning of April 14th a joint U.S., British and French missile strike was carried out against a number of Syrian government and military facilities across the country, an attack which has had widespread consequences for Western-Russian relations, the future of Syria’s internal conflict and perceptions of the Western bloc’s ability to project power across the Middle East. The attack is also set to have significant consequences for Israel, Syria’s small neighbour which has itself often clashed with the Syria military and which welcomed and strongly supported Western military action against Damascus. Israel’s own Air Force has frequently made incursions into Syrian territory, striking military facilities and attempting to weaken the country’s air defence network due to the threat it perceives from both the Syrian government and from its allies Iran and Hezbollah, which have deployed significant military assets to Syrian territory since the outbreak of war in the country in 2011. They weakening of Syria’s armed forces, and by extension of the entire alliance, has been seen as a highly positive outcome by the Israeli military - particularly when achieved by Western military intervention rather than the deployment of Israeli’s own far scarcer assets.

While large scale missile strikes on Syria’s military facilities appears to benefit Israeli interests by weakening its adversaries, an analysis of both the outcome of the Western strikes and the potential retaliatory measures set to be taken by Russia’s own armed forces, which deemed the attack a violation of international law and act of aggression, could well indicate that the end result will be contrary to Israeli interests.

The Western powers reportedly launched 103 cruise missiles from naval and aerial assets, all positioned well beyond Syrian airspace, of which 71 were successfully intercepted by Syria’s surface to air missile network. With Syria’s air defences operating heavily upgraded but nevertheless dated missile platforms such as the S-125 and S-200 provided by the Soviet Union during the 1980s, such a high interception rate against some of the Western bloc’s most capable missiles, “nice new and smart” missiles in the words of U.S. President Donald Trump, amounted to a significant failure on the part of the Western powers. This failure to project power successfully against a supposedly ‘obsolete’ missile defence network is set to curb the Western bloc’s enthusiasm for further intervention in the Middle East and further strikes - particularly against states with more sophisticated networks such as Iran and North Korea. With Israel’s position in the Middle East fast deteriorating, unable to obtain sufficiently capable new fighters from the United States to suit its defence needs and seeing the capabilities of its potential adversaries fast growing, the country’s inability to count on further Western interventions in light of the failure of strikes on Syria is a significant blow to its position.

A second cause for major concern among Israel's leadership which has emerged as a direct result of Western airstrikes on Syria has been Russia’s stated willingness to respond by supplying a number of states, namely Syria, Iran and North Korea, with more advanced air defence systems to further strengthen their networks. Russia’s General Staff stated just hours after the Western missile strike: "A few years ago, we refused to supply S-300 air defence systems to Syria due to the request of some of our Western partners. Taking into account what happened, we consider it possible to return to this issue. And not only with regard to Syria, but with regard to other states.” Alexander Sherin, first deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's lower house defence committee, similarly stated that in response to the Western attack on Syria Moscow should consider the delivery of more advanced air defence systems to Damascus, Tehran and Pyongyang to prevent further unilateral Western attacks. The deputy chairman further elaborated: "It is necessary to consider not only deliveries of missile defence systems, but also deliveries accompanied by those people who can train the personnel of these countries, so that Syria, Iran and North Korea could deploy these systems, if they wanted.”

Continued in Part Two

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