Mordechai de Haas
Ger; Haredi; retired Lieutenant Colonel; Russian security academic

Israel attacks Iran-linked targets in Syria

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The title of this blog should actually be ‘Israel attacks Iran-linked targets in Syria, or how the Yom Kippur War changed my life’. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 sparked my love for the Jews and Israel, as well as my interest in military science. With a career in the latter, I will now first analyse IDF’s attacks of today and subsequently come back to the Yom Kippur War.

Israel’s air force attacking targets related to Iran in Syria is not new, IDF retaliates each time actions from Syria threaten Israel’s security. In this case, it were improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found on the Israeli side of the border at the Golan, which triggered Israel to respond. Since the targets were linked to Iran, IDF probably traced the IEDs to troops operating in Syria, but led from Teheran, not from Damascus. Rightly so, Israel responded swift with force, since the actors operating in the Syrian battlefield – the Syrian army, Iranian groupings and Hezbollah – only listen to the barrel of a gun. However, European countries and possibly also US president-elect Joe Biden, instead of military action usually favour talking with actors such as Iran, even though for Teheran the objective remains the liquidation of the Jewish state as well as that of Western democracies. Again, only military force constrains the ayatollahs, alas the West still does not understand that.

When we discuss the Syrian battlefield, we should not overlook Russia. Moscow is a big player in the wider region, not only in Syria. Regarding Iran, the Kremlin delivers arms and equipment and builds a nuclear energy plant in Iran. Furthermore, both states have considerable gas resources with which they can assert leverage. Thus, Moscow maintains close ties with Teheran. Likewise, Russia delivers weapons to Syria. And without Moscow’s military support, with troops on the ground, an airbase and a naval base, Assad’s regime probably would not have survived the current civil war. Additionally, the Russian arms delivered to Syria and Iran also end up with Hezbollah. In this way, Moscow serves the wishes of various actors in Syria. But that support comes at a price. In return, Russia has a firm impact on the Middle East. With the naval facility in Tartus, the Russian navy has means to control developments in the Mediterranean Sea. And, as I together with my students described in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, the involvement of Russian troops in the Syrian war, in addition to political and economic influence, offers Moscow a testing ground for its military reforms. In Syria, the Russians have a free hand in testing new operational concepts, force structures and weapon systems, which has improved its military power.

What brings all this to Israel? The targeting of (Iran-linked) military infrastructure by IDF is relatively easy. However, how to deal with Russia is a more complicated and even tricky matter. As mentioned above, the Kremlin is befriended with Syria and Iran and Russian weapons are also delivered to Hezbollah. As such, Russia is more an enemy to Israel than a friend. Also given the fact that cooperating with Israel does not provide Moscow with political or economic influence, as is the case with the aforementioned actors. Nevertheless, the militaries of Israel and Russia cooperate to a certain extent. Russia has stationed anti-aircraft defence systems in Syria – whereas there is no other threat from the air than from Israel – with which it could shoot down Israeli aircraft attacking targets in Syria. To avoid that, information exchange has been established. Furthermore, when appropriate, Israel informs Russia about its military operations, as was the case in 2018 when an IDF delegation visited Moscow after Israeli troops had discovered tunnels from Hezbollah at the border with Lebanon.

But even so, the IDF is, of course, aware of the fact that the Russian military cooperates with forces opposing Israel, and therefore, will always limit their information exchange with Moscow since that info might well end up with its enemies. Considering the aforementioned, I cannot understand why PM Netanyahu is such a frequent visitor to Russia’s President Putin since Moscow’s intensive ties with Israel’s opponents form a threat to Jerusalem. For Israel, demonstrating its military force when its security is at stake – as we have seen today – is the best way of guaranteeing its survival, talks with Russia are not.

What has all this to do with the Yom Kippur War and me? The easy bridge is of course that IDF’s military action of today and one of the battlefields of the 1973 war are the same areas, the Golan Heights. But this is not what I mean. The trigger is the television series ‘Valley of Tears’, which is currently broadcasted and which has a lot of impact on those who experienced that war.

Apart from my own recollections of watching the war from Holland, I am also prompted by the soldiers in the series, using Uzi machineguns. Seven years after the Yom Kippur War, in 1980, as a Dutch soldier in Lebanon with UNIFIL, I also carried an Uzi, which was then in the armament of the Dutch army.

Courtesy

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, the Yom Kippur War was the gamechanger of my life, by igniting in me an interest in military science as well as a love for Judaism and Israel. I remember well how in October 1973, as a schoolboy of 12 years old,  I watched each evening the Dutch television news (in black and white) to follow the developments in the Yom Kippur War. As to my interest in the military, I decided to write down in a notebook what I heard on the news, which military operations and with what result. Later on, as a Dutch army officer, I would call that ‘order of battle’. Consequently, the Yom Kippur War caused me to follow a military career.

With regard to my affection for Israel, at the time of the Yom Kippur War, I was not (yet) a Jew but the conflict made me intensely attracted to the defence of Israel. My parents did not make any comments about ‘the good and the bad guys’, but I already felt hearted, that I should support Israel, and that Egypt and Syria were the enemies. For some reason I always understood that it was important to keep that notebook with my account of the war, I never threw it away. Nowadays, I keep it together with my PhD certificate, but actually, for me, the Yom Kippur notebook is more important than my PhD. Why? As a result of the Yom Kippur War, Judaism and Israel became the central points in my life. Since then I supported the Jews and Israel where I could, from demonstrating at the embassy of the Soviet Union for the release of the Jews to Israel to interviews I gave on Dutch radio and newspapers around Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006. My affection with Judaism and Israel was accomplished with my conversion to Judaism and Aliyah.

As to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) the following. In earlier blogs, I have criticized the Israeli police for the excessive force they use against Corona violations. Likewise, I have complained about Israel’s bureaucracy that maltreats newcomers. But with IDF I feel differently. I will never forget the compliment that I received in 2000 as a Dutch army major, as I was escorting a Dutch general in a visit to IDF, when an Israeli officer, noticing that I could read some Hebrew told the general “Sir, you are escorted by an officer that knows Hebrew!” I have always admired IDF. So, for me, the soldiers that saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as well as the IDF pilots that defended Israel today; they are all my heroes!

About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Netherlands Army (retired) Dr. Mordechai de Haas is Affiliated Professor and Research Fellow on Russian security policy towards the Middle East, National Security Studies Centre, University of Haifa. He served with UNIFIL in Lebanon in 1980 as a conscript of the Dutch army. He holds an PhD on Russian security policy. At the Netherlands Defence Staff he was responsible for drafting the first Netherlands Defence Doctrine in 2005.
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