Coming directly after the alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma on Sunday, the temptation is to see the Israeli air raid on Syria’s giant Tiyas air base on Monday as somehow connected.
I am sure this is wrong. The air raid – which appears to have been relatively unsuccessful – was almost certainly planned well in advance, and almost certainly has no connection to the Douma incident.
Israel has a very long history of launching air raids against Syria, going back in fact to the 1960s. This latest air raid gives every impression of being part of that sequence.
Tiyas air base – Syria’s biggest air base – is in fact a regular Israeli target. There have been some suggestions that Iranian advisers have established a significant presence there, and were the principal target of the raid, with suggestions that Tiyas is now the principal air bridge between Syria and Iran.
In fact there have even been suggestions – almost certainly untrue – that Iran “controls” Tiyas.
As I have discussed previously, the Russians will not interfere in Israeli strikes and Syrian counter-strikes which are part of the longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict in which Russia is not a party, always provided that Israel does not cross Russia’s red lines, which concern the survival of the Syrian government and the Syrian army’s operations against the Jihadi fighters who threaten its existence.
The Israelis understand this perfectly, and all the indications are that the Israeli air raid – which the Russians say the Israeli and Russian militaries have discussed with each other – was carefully calibrated not to cross Russia’s red lines.
The Syrian conflict is complicated enough already. Israel – through its overt support of Jihadi fighters in the Golan Heights and elsewhere – is a party to that conflict.
It is however also in a state of war with Syria, which condition has existed ever since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
That puts Israeli raids on Syria in a somewhat different legal position from raids carried out in Syria by the other Western powers, who are not technically at war with Syria but who nonetheless without any legal justification or excuse carry out air raids and send their troops there.
Moreover Israel is an independent actor in the conflict. Though it is a close ally of the US, it follows its own interests and has a history of making its own decisions.
The Russians are careful to distinguish Israel’s actions in Syria from those of the other Western powers, and they are right to do so.