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Israeli Reports Confirm Failure of Western Strikes on Syria

April 22nd - 2018

Image Credit : Airspacemagazine

In the aftermath of the joint U.S., British and French strike on Syrian military facilities carried out in the early ours of April 14th, a number of sources reported that Syria’s air defence forces had intercepted the bulk of the Western missiles, downing 71 of the 103 cruise missiles launched. While Western leaders stated that the strike had been carried out successfully, with French President Macron stating that the attack would ”˜defend the honour of the international community’ (despite the attack having no UN mandate or international sanction) and U.S. President Trump tweeting ”˜missile accomplished’, significant evidence was gathered indicating that the strike had been an overwhelming failure. This was despite the antiquated state of Syria’s air defences, which operating platforms such as the S-125 and S-200 dating back to the mid Cold War managed to counter some of the Western bloc’s most advanced cruise missiles.

While reports of the failure of the missile strike had primarily come from Syrian and Russian sources, which were best placed to report on the effects of the strike due to their extensive radar and sensor networks deployed to cover Syrian airspace, these have recently been supported by a number of Israeli reports. While Israel’s leadership strongly supported the Western strike against Syria, a longstanding adversary with which it has frequently clashed, the West’s failure to achieve any meaningful objectives could seriously compromise Israeli security. This is compounded by the threat of significant retaliation by Russia, including the provision of more advanced air defence systems to Damascus, which mean that the strike’s overall impact could well be to seriously hinder Israeli security interests rather than to aid them. Israeli sources have since lent some support to the Syrian and Russian narrative that the attack had failed, with a senior official characterising the Western strike as unsuccessful and stating in an interview with Israeli media: "If President Trump had ordered the strike only to show that the U.S. responded to (Syrian President Bashar Al) Assad's use of chemical weapons, then that goal has been achieved. But if there was another objective ”” such as paralysing the ability to launch chemical weapons or deterring Assad from using it again ”” it's doubtful any of these objectives have been met." Former head of Mossad Danny Yatom in much the same vein referred to the Western attack as “a symbolic move, without any strategic significance.” The strike may have ”˜defended the Western bloc’s honour’, to paraphrase French President Macron, in demonstrating its continued willingness to launch military interventions abroad and act as a world policeman, but it had little more effect than that.

An intelligence official speaking to Israeli media lent further support to the narrative that the Western strikes had failed to achieve any meaningful military objectives, stating in response to U.S. President Trump’s announcement of victory in the attacks’ aftermath: "The statement of 'Mission Accomplished' and (the assertion) that Assad's ability to use chemical weapons has been fatally hit has no basis.” The U.S. leader claimed that the strike had hit the ”˜heart’ of Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure. Given the scale of the Western strikes, Israeli claims that they had negligible impacts could well indicate that reports of strikes being blunted by Syrian air defences were true.

The United States previously carried out smaller strikes on Syria in April 2017 under the same pretext of responding to a chemical weapons attack on insurgent held territories, though they were done without European support. Attacks targeted a Syrian airbase from which chemical weapons had reportedly been launched, and though the U.S. Navy reportedly launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles damage to the Syrian facility the following day appeared minimal, leading to widespread speculation that several missiles had been intercepted either with Russian assistance or by the Syrian Air Defence Force itself. Aircraft were seen operating from the airbase within 24 hours of the strike, which much like that carried out in April 2018 appeared to have been to make a political statement rather than to achieve tangible military gains. While the Western bloc’s security is not directly hindered by successes of Syrian Armed Forces, against which larger operations and a sustained campaign to achieve meaningful objectives would be highly costly due to its advanced defensive capabilities, as well as extremely risky due to Russia’s military presence in the coutnry, Israel does perceive a direct threat to its security from a number of potential outcomes of the country's ongoing war. Tel Aviv cannot therefore afford to portray military defeats as successes for political gains. The discrepancy between Israeli and Western reports likely comes as a result of these key differences in their positions. 

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