Saturday, September 08, 2007

Recent Israeli Air Force Action

I am fairly confident that the recent incident on the Turkish-Syrian border, where Syria alleges it repulsed an Israeli fighter jet from its air space, will not result in military retaliation by Damascus. However, this latest incident might very well be used as a pretext by Syrian proxies in Lebanon and in the territories to attempt some kind of "counter-attack." If successful, such an attack might very well lead to an escalation of Syrian-Israeli tensions.

The incident took place on Thursday at dawn. Only the Turks and Syrians so far have released information based on first-hand observation as well as their own agendas. So far, the Syrians have alleged that the plane dropped munitions on a deserted area, while the Turks have displayed a jettisoned F-15 fuel-tank. Israeli sources have remained silent about the news, and the U.S. has not commented either.

What is the meaning of this report? I think we can safely discard the preposterous web of conjectures spun by Joshua Landis to allege a neo-con, North Korea connection. This is obviously about issues much closer to home. In an earlier post on Thursday, Landis asked, with faux exasperation, "What is this about?" and answered that "One has to believe it is an intentional provocation." This again seems to me off the mark.

I think there are two possible explanations for this incident. The IAF pilot was either engaging in a routine reconnaissance flight over Syria and due to an operational failure strayed into territory covered by the country's anti-aircraft installations, or, more likely, this was an operation designed specifically to test the current state of Syrian anti-air defense. In the latter case, we have to ask whether the IAF's performance can be judged a success. The pilot involved (so far, we know of only one plane, but there were probably others) escaped without harm or damage to the plane but was forced to jettison cargo and munitions, probably to speed up the getaway. On the other hand, given the expectation before the summer that there might be a war between Damascus and Jerusalem, it might have been preferable to avoid detection entirely, or at least to avoid giving Syria concrete proof that an incursion had occurred.

With evidence in hand, Syria is likely to do the most it can in the diplomatic realm to force Arab states to take rhetorical "measures." This could be detrimental to Israeli and American efforts at the upcoming peace conference, and it might serve as a handy diversionary measure by Iran and Syria at the UN. Turkey, too, is in an awkward position, as the Israelis most likely did enter the country's air space. We can expect some grandstanding from them, as they try to appease the Syrians and the Arab states, who will seize the opportunity to condemn Turkey for its collaboration with Israel.

There are some who see this incident as related to American plans for an aerial raid on Iran, or a joint Israeli-American offensive against Syria. I don't think either of these conclusions apply, but there is no doubt that Israel, the U.S., Syria, and Iran are paying especially close attention both to the actual evidence being reported and to the gains they may harvest through the information war in the media and the diplomatic sphere. Turkey, too, is doubtlessly probing carefully what Israel and/or the Americans might be up to.

13 comments:

ariel said...

I'm not sure about your interpretation, Amos. What doesn't fit here is Turkey. If the IAF thought there was something worth testing in Syria's air defenses, it must have anticipated some risk. Choosing to go through Turkey then seems almost calculated potentially to involve the Turks in an awkward situation, one that is likely to do nothing to preserve close Turkish-Israeli ties, which are obviously of great strategic importance to Israel. Clearly Israeli planes would not have intentionally entered Turkish air space without prior permission to do so. It is therefore the case that either (a) the IAF jets entered Turkish air space accidentally while attempting something risky near the Turkish-Syrian border; (b) received permission from Turkey to use its air space for the specific purpose of doing whatever it wanted to do; (c) received permission from Turkey, with Turkey not being aware of what the mission was actually about. The last one strikes me as highly unlikely. If it was option (b), I wouldn't expect the Turks to acknowledge the incident, and certainly not to display evidence. That leaves (a), which strikes me as a stupid decision if the only thing the IAF wanted to do was test Syrian air defenses. Could it possibly be the case that the anti-aircraft defenses Syria has deployed along its border with Turkey are superior to those along the Israeli border? That doesn't seem likely, but even if true, why should Israel care? Altogether then, I cannot fathom what would lead IAF planes to be in that vicinity, unless some clear and valuable target was the goal.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking
Well, in any case they probably flew almost over Musa Dag. From the sea it is very impressing. Called Ras Hanzir on nautical charts, must be also some thing from the air, but they flew at night.
Good Next Year to any body and all.

Amos said...

Ariel,

The Syrian air defenses in that area are protecting strategic installations.

I'm fairly confident that Israel routinely flies through Turkish air space - sometimes with prior coordination, occasionally without. I think the Turks are probably annoyed that they didn't pick this up on their own systems, but it seems to me that their complaints have been relatively perfunctory.

According to Damascus, the Israeli plane(s) entered Syrian airspace from the Mediterranean, flying over Latakia (Assad's real homebase). Presumably, afterward they flew north, close to the Turkish border.

It is possible that the sole aim of this operation was to make it clear to the Syrians once again what the air force is capable of doing.

Hazbani,

Thanks for the New Year's wishes. Same to you and all others. Assuming I pass these exams, I should be back posting at the pre-summer pace.

Anonymous said...

For all your talk insinuating the big bad Syrians might use this to supposedly provoke the peace-loving Israelis away from their oh-so-sincere peace conference, you seem to forget one thing. It is ILLEGAL to violate another country's airspace, especially with a WARPLANE. If this is so-called "routine" reconnaisance, perhaps the Israelis have just gotten too used to the fecklessness and weakness of Syrian governments to stand up and defend their own country from Israeli warmongering. In which case, a wake up call is long overdue. Not that I genuinely expect the Syrian government to grow a real spine, but one can hope.

Amos said...

I don't think the words "bad" and "peace-loving" appear in my post. I don't find them to be very useful analytic categories. The legality or illegality of this particular operation is not a particularly interesting or challenging topic. You might be right about the Israelis having gotten used to Syrian weakness though.

Noah K said...

From today's Times: "The Israeli military censor has deleted much of the coverage of the even the speculation about the incident from the Israeli press."

Amos said...

Umm...how exactly did the Times reach that conclusion?

Yoav Stern and others have been speculating on the matter since the news first appeared.

Here is the latest.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking.
Basically the chance of realy knowing what happened is slim almost none. Because no body involved is interested it such occurance. Just to remind us all that the besst German electronic spy ship is there off Lebanon. With all due respect to the electronic experts of Israel, and I have this respct, I still think a lot of such German electronic spy ships. True it may not be politically correct to say that but, well after last war one may so reservations about Israeli seaborn electronics. Very many people in the world would like to have last week tapes of this ship. End of the Europeans.

Is Turky interested in telling the whole world about its air diffence abilities? Is the Turkish army jumping with joy about the military cooperation between Syria and Iran? Is the Turkish army jumping with joy when Iran is building in Lebanon a missiles base that can hit any point in Israel? or are all these missile only of the south pointing kind. Are the turks realy realy happy about the possibility that a Russian naval base is being built in Latakia? Almost a spitting distance from the end terminal od the oil pipe lines from east. And so up to this very moment Turkey did not say that its air space was invaded, it still might but even the long wait tells some thing.

Is Israel interested in telling all that she knows? Last war in Lebanon every body in Israel, his brother, sister, parents and pets and the mice in the yard were talking their heads off, much good did it do them. So unbelivably the Israeli politicians, generals and admirals leared from their past mistakes. It is very hard to belive that such thing is possible in such crowd, but the fact is they are not talking, up to this moment any how. So perhaps most of them dont even know much and rightly belive that in some case people will belve hat behind the silence there is knowledge. But we all may be surprised and an oral diarea is about to start this very moment.

As for the Syrians? If they do not have Russian, Persian or other real truth telling electronic experts [as I wrote the Germans are now some place else] I do not think that they know very much. I do not think that they belive what they are being told on all ranks starting at the privets and ending with his majesty the eye doctor [ good subjects to some cartoons] also their electronic tapes are for sure unlike the German ones. In Lebanon they use to sit people on broken bottles to get the truth, but this would not do much to a jammed computer or laser burned radar.

As for Robert Fisk, and his like, it depends on what the taxi drivers, the bar tenders, official spoke men double or tripple speaking politicians ex generals and such will tell them.

Wrote too much.

Amos said...

Haha, thanks for that Hazbani. It looks like quite a bit more information is coming out now.

I very snidely dismissed the "North Korea connection" in my post. I still think it is ridiculous to see the Israeli air strike (we seem to be reaching some kind of consensus that missiles were fired) as part of some plot involving John Bolton. However, Yoav Stern keeps putting in paragraphs about N.K. in his coverage...they don't seem terribly relevant to the articles as a whole, which makes me suspect that there is a connection of some sort. In any case, apparently the DPRK strongly condemned the violation of Syrian sovereignty - but this information came to the West via China. Maybe it's the Chinese who are angry. Russia, on the other hand, has been fairly quiet.

Two specific questions/comments to Hazbani:

1) all we've heard about the Hanit (Israeli ship hit by Hizbullah in Aug 2006) suggests that they were not operating the anti-missile defense system. Is this disinformation? Did Hizbullah in fact use advanced electronic warfare to jam the system?

2) The Russian naval base is a very big threat to American, Turkish, and Israeli interests. It can only be interpreted as an effort to challenge the viability of the pipeline going to Ceyhan, as well as the efforts by the Americans to build a delivery system that might circumvent Gazprom's.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking.
1)I realy do not know more than is written in the papers.
2) I realy have no idea about the Electronics of the Hizb.
3) I do have some first hand knowledge about idiocy in the Isaeli system.
4) It is the natural tendency of some people [me] to relate all kind of occurances to facts they know. Last war in Lebanon demonstrated that there are a lot of idiots in the Israeli Armed forces. I think the Navy is no exception. So I would say that Israeli idiocy contributed greatly to the Hanit story. Why afterwards the Germans ( NATO ? ) put this conviniently forgotten ship there is every body guess. As some antisemites Israeli bashers in the USA say; "remember the Liberty".
5) As I have said the more we hear about this affair the more I am sure that one will never know the real story. As some of you are historians notice that all 100% of the open or semi open primary material on the history of Israel is never ever from Arab Government sources, even after 60 years and I was told that Egypt, for example, has terrific archives and I think that it may be the same with Syria.
6) As far as we know about the way the Syrian system works I do not think that Assad him self realy know the whole story. He or one of his henchmen may has signed some thing with Iran or PRNC but what realy went on?
Any how hopefully this story will lower the chance for old type war as it was proven again that in small non symmetrical wars the Arabs are doing much better.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani on another track TURKEY + OIL.
Notice that oil and Turkey is a strange story. There is much in the NE, S, and now very much in the E of Turkey. These is very little oil in Turkey it self. on the NE the Baku fields are in Azaria which has long connections to Turkey, speak kind of Turkish but oh no mostly Shiaa, but they were taken by the Russian, now as you know it is a small state Adzerbijan. The Mosul fields were cynically and brutally stolen from Turkey after WW I by the British then by Arab Iraq, but now they are kind of Kurdish, and the story of Kurds and Turkey is famous. The new fields in the east, once Russia, are also often in a kind of Turkish speaking area often Suni. Every body [including Bush familiy, USA, Iran and Russia is messing there] Long time ago [before oil] the Kamelists tried this idea of Pan-Turkism [what about is now? you young people should know]. So as this is a blog not a peer reviewed jounal all I can say that if I was a nationalis Turk with historical memory I would not like the idea of an Iranian -Arab -Russian base near the new oil pipelines, I would just think it is too much. End of this.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

I have to agree with ariel about Turkey issue...

Israel have history in Long-Bow strikes against [Beirut, Uzerak, Antibi, Tunisia] but none of them been kept silent and none involved a third party.

and i don't know what in Syrian AA capabilities worth probing by such awkward attempt anyway?!?,

while japordizing the Israel-Turkish co-ordination that keeps Syria as pressed Nut and put Israel strike force at Iran orders?!?

NB. if it is true that IDF-AF intruded Syrian A.S. from Lasakia and flew all the way to the incidence area near [Syria-Iraq-Turkey Border Triangle] so the Syrians MUST SILENTLY REVISE their Air Defence Doctrine !!!

I still have difficulty that the whole incidence occured at all (yeah i am a moron !!!).

Jeha said...

I think the incident has to be placed in the more limited context of the upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon.

Recent news appear to link the attacks to Hezb's supplies from Syria. If the attack was limited to nuclear installations, why would there be a knock-on effect on telecommunication installations? There are two problems with some of the officially peddled stories;

1- Syria can ill afford an expensive nuclear program; its economy's being kept afloat in large part to conjectural elements, not systemic changes.

2- The devices you would use to disrupt communications and logistical links are not the same as the ones you would use to target heavily reinforced (supposed) nuclear installations. Note that Hezb run their own telecom network in Lebanon, directly linked to Syria.