The hidden battle in Syria – the one that rarely appears on our television screens – has been raging for years between Israel and a coalition comprising the Syrian government, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
Watching over the proceedings without directly intervening has been Russia, although that might be about to change.
The prize is control over Syrian territory but the battlefield is Syria’s skies.
According to United Nations figures, the Israeli military violated Syrian airspace more than 750 times in the four-month period leading up to last October, with its warplanes and drones spending some 3,200 hours over the country. On average, more than six Israeli aircraft entered Syrian airspace each day in that period.
Powerful rocket strikes reported on two sites in Syria on Sunday were widely attributed to Israel. Since war broke out in Syria just over seven years ago, Israeli fighter jets are believed to have carried out hundreds of offensive missions.
Israel regards the stakes as high. It wants Syria to remain an enfeebled state, ensuring Bashar Assad’s government cannot again become a regional foe. But Israel also needs to prevent other powerful, hostile actors from being drawn into the resulting vacuum.
Israel achieved one major aim early on: Western powers insisted that the Syrian government be disarmed of its large arsenal of chemical weapons, Damascus’s only deterrent against an Israeli nuclear threat.
Since then, Israel’s focus has…