The Volatile Potential of the Tensions in the Far East

The IAF strike against the Syrian SAM battery is an element of Israel's strategy of countering the empowerment efforts of potential enemies without escalating into an all-out war; in the Far East, the first indications are emerging of a nuclear arms race that could spread to the Middle East; also: does the Palestinian reconciliation present an opportunity, the Israeli public announcements notwithstanding? Amir Rapaport's weekly column

DMZ Zone between North and South Korea (Photo: AP(

The strike by the Israeli Air Force against the Surface-to-Air Missile battery of the Syrian Army on Monday morning is conceived as a matter of routine: the Radar of the SAM battery was destroyed in the attack, and the IDF Spokesperson promptly provided the media with full details of the strike.
So, the interesting aspect about the incident that took place inside Syrian territory is not the strike itself, but the fact that Israel has assumed responsibility for attacks against the Syrian Army as a matter of .routine
Prior to this attack, Israel had issued an official (and overdue) acknowledgment regarding a series of strikes in Syria over the past few years, thereby unveiling its informal strategy of attempting to defer the
next war (or at least minimize the damage it might inflict) through systematic strikes. The primary objectives of those strikes are shipments of strategic arms, most of which are intended for Hezbollah. At the same time, Israel normally avoids staging such attacks inside the territory of Lebanon itself, probably because according to the rules of the game that have been consolidated over the last few years, Hezbollah would not take such attacks sitting down.
The repeated attacks inside Syrian territory constitute a change compared to past decades, when Israel failed to take active measures against the empowerment of its opponents. These strikes are typical, most of all, of the interwar period. In the IDF jargon, the term "interwar period" refers to an endless succession of operations, taking place both near and far, most of which remain unreported.
At the bottom line, the intention is that Israel no longer observes the empowerment efforts of its potential enemies passively. Instead, it attempts to disrupt those efforts without deteriorating into a war that is not desirable to any one of the parties involved.
Back to last Monday at 10:00 AM: IAF launched four stand-off munitions, destroying the Radar of the Syrian SAM battery after it had launched five missiles at Israeli aircraft without actually endangering them.
The strike was executed two hours after the Syrian had launched their missiles at the Israeli aircraft, but apparently, it had been prepared well in advance. The exact same battery had fired at IAF aircraft in another incident, about two months ago, so it must have been "in the sights" ever since.
The incident of this week will not be remembered by many in a few weeks' time. However, the sensitive circumstances will remain with us for a long time to come – and they stem from the real war over determining the rules of the game inside Syria's territory, after the civil war had been decided, in effect, in favor of Assad's military and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah (with backing provided by the Russian Army.
.(The Russians deployed in the area numerous air-defense batteries, which brought an end to the complete freedom of operation the IAF pilots had enjoyed since the 1980.
Further evidence of the complexity of the situation was provided by the fact that during the Israeli attack against the Russian-made SAM battery, operated by the Syrian Army, the Russian Secretary of Defense
was visiting Israel. He even met with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot, with the Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, Major-General
Hertzi HaLevi, and with the Head of IMOD's Policy and Political-Military Affairs Division, Zohar Palti
Defense Minister Lieberman reiterated Israel's policy to his Russian guest, namely – that we will not allow the supply of high precision weapons to Hezbollah. However, the Russians, who shower the Israeli side with sympathy and warmth and say all the right things, have their own interests: to consolidate their total control over the processes taking place in the new Syria. After the USA had almost totally
.relinquished its influence in that part of the world, the Russians seem to be doing it very successfully indeed

The Iranian Script

On the other hand, the USA continues to show a great deal of interest in Iran. More precisely, President Donald Trump is keenly interested in Iran. He has delivered a speech on this issue last Saturday, but did
.(not announce the decertification of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the superpowers (including the USA
But even without announcing the decertification of this agreement, President Trump's speech was of historic significance, as it linked together the Iranian ballistic missile project (which has never stopped, not even for a second) with their nuclear project. President Trump also announced that the USA was switching from the diplomatic policy that was typical of the Barack Obama administration to a policy of forceful
.(solutions (with which President Trump is thoroughly familiar from his days in the business world
The important question is what happens next. Of the various extreme scenarios according to which Iran will withdraw from the agreement at its own initiative and defiantly announce that it is restarting its nuclear project, in the style of North Korea, to the possibility of a US (or Israeli) military attack, it seems that nothing will change, at least within the next year or two. The most probable scenario: Iran will continue to adhere to the nuclear agreement and to implement it. According to intelligence appraisals in the West, Iran stands to gain more from adhering to the agreement, without actually relinquishing its dreams of nuclear power, than from shattering the agreement. The same applies to the US balance of considerations. Consequently, the agreement will be honored by both parties, while Iran's ambitious missile program (based on close cooperation with North Korea – which may extend to the nuclear program as well), shall move forward

Hot in Japan

While Israel tends to examine every development according to the scale and criteria of the Middle East, the truly serious tension is currently mounting in the Far East, in view of the belligerent threats made by
.(North Korea and the missiles it has launched over the last few weeks (including missiles launched over the territory of North Korea's neighbor, Japan
During visits to Tokyo over the last few weeks, we learned that the North Korean missiles have shaken Japan without actually hitting its soil, and that these missiles were the real cause of the political instability and the flash elections announced only two weeks ago – to be held next week. One of the hottest issues in Japan right now is the possibility of developing Japanese nuclear weapons, for the first time ever. Iran has the ability to develop a nuclear bomb but it has avoided it thus far. If the sabre rattling with North Korea continues, an arms race might develop in the Far East, and it will only be the preview for the
efforts of Egypt and the countries of the Persian Gulf to arm themselves with nuclear weapons as a counterweight for the Iranian nuclear project, which is to be restarted sooner or later (unless the government 
.(in Tehran is replaced)

Palestinian Opportunity

Meanwhile, the natural tendency to accentuate the threat over the opportunity and the negative strategic processes over the positive ones (of which there are quite a few), could be reflected, among other
.things, in connection with the Palestinian reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah
The chances of this agreement remaining in effect for any length of time are slim, but the fact that even Hamas was compelled to yield to the way of Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu-Mazen, which actually
.opposes terrorism, should not be regarded as an insignificant bit of news, worthy of being printed on an inside page
For these reasons, the developments on the Palestinian arena were discussed earlier this week during an unscheduled meeting of the Israeli cabinet. Apparently, these developments embody quite a few
.opportunities, even though, owing to political and propaganda considerations, formal Israel has already rejected the reconciliation