Conflict Alerts # 369, 29 April 2021
On 22 April, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed near Israel's top-secret Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert. Although the missile did not cause any damage or injuries, the Israeli military immediately launched a counterattack the same day. It destroyed multiple defence batteries in Syria, including the one that fired the missile. Three soldiers were seriously wounded, and a Syrian officer was killed in the strike.
On 8 April, the Israeli military attacked an arms depot and military facility in the Al-Demas area near Damascus. Though Syrian air defences intercepted most of the missiles, a few managed to hit targets, killing three and damaging military infrastructures as well. The depot is said to have been used by the Hezbollah militias operating from Syria.
Issues at large
First, Israel's Syria problem. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria a decade ago, Iranian troops have been a constant support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The increasing number of Iranian troops in Syria was not welcomed by Israel, which shares its northern border with Syria. Iran also began supplying precision-guided rocket missiles to the militias operating under them in Syria. This became a huge security concern for Israel, which then began conducting regular air and missile strikes in Syria to disrupt the supply chain from Iran and keep the rising number of militants in check.
Second, Syria's Israel problem. Syria has not recognized Israel and does not have any bilateral ties. Despite their hatred towards Israel, Syria does not usually initiate or provoke any form of attack on the border they share with Israel. Most of the attacks that they conduct are retaliatory strikes against Israeli attacks. The recent missile attack near the Dimona nuclear facility was also reported by Syrian media outlets to be a defensive measure to prevent Israeli airstrikes near Damascus. However, the militias operating from Syria are said to have a keen interest in targetting Israel and have conducted numerous attacks on the Israel-Syria border.
Third, the use of proxies in the conflict. Syria has been home to numerous religious and regional extremist groups even before the Arab Spring movement engulfed in 2011. Groups such as the Shabiha who primarily consist of the Alawite Muslims, have been used as proxies by the Syrian government since the 1980s. After 2011, extremist groups such as the Hezbollah, backed by Iran due to their Shiite roots, began gaining a foothold in Syria. To suppress the violent uprising quickly, President Assad sought help from Hezbollah and the Iranian government, giving Tehran more control in Syria and opportunities to attack Israel. On the other hand, Israel has conducted most of their attacks in Syria, targeting Iranian troops and Iran-backed groups.
The constant missile strikes between Israel and Syria are nowhere close to an end. A report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights mentioned that Israel had conducted 29 strikes in Syria since the beginning of 2021. The tit-for-tat game between Iran and Israel is causing massive losses to Syria, which has been used as a battleground for proxy wars. For now, Iran could limit its use of proxies to orchestrate attacks due to its crumbling economy, and Israel might want to rethink its security measures after getting attacked deep within its territory.