Tuesday March 21, 2017
The Israeli air attacks on Friday near Palmyra in Syria targeting what Tel Aviv claims to be a convoy ferrying weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon – and what Damascus alleges was a calculated act directed against the positions of the government forces fighting the Islamic State active in the region – cannot be regarded as a "stand-alone" event.
On the face of it, the Israeli claim lacks credibility since Palmyra is twice removed from the Syrian-Lebanon border in terms of geographical proximity. Possibly, Syrian government has a point that the Israelis were deliberately targeting its forces. This explains why Russian Foreign Ministry called in the Israeli ambassador in Moscow on the same day and sought explanation.
Evidently, some "ground rule" as per the unwritten Russian-Israeli understanding over Syrian frontlines has been breached and Moscow took note. In previous instances when Israel attacked Hezbollah – even assassinating its top commanders fighting on Syrian frontlines – Moscow had looked away. But this time around, it promptly signaled displeasure. It stands to reason that Israel crossed some "red line."
At first, Moscow did not publicise its demarche. But then, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman flew off the handle on Sunday with a belligerent remark that Israel “will not hesitate” to destroy Syria’s air defence systems if that country ever again targeted attacking Israeli jets. It was an illogical statement insofar as Israel insists it can violate Syrian air space but Damascus has no right to defend. Liberman also held a veiled threat saying, “We do not want to clash with the Russians.”