The Downing of the ’Israeli’ F-16 & New Regional Realities
This weekend's downing of an "Israeli" F-16 fighter jet by Syrian air defenses is a dramatic development for a number of reasons.
Although Syrian forces are purported to have damaged "Israeli" jets that were carrying out raids on Syrian territory in recent months, Saturday's episode marks the first time that Tel Aviv has admitted to losing an aircraft in Syria since 1982.
The actions of the Syrian military, which demonstrated Damascus' deterrent capacity against "Israeli" jets and its willingness to take them down, permanently altered the reality along Syria's southern border.
But more importantly, the shooting down of the F-16 signals an end to "Israel's" decades-long dominance of the Arab world's airspace.
Retired Syrian Army General Muhammad al-Abbas told Al-Ahed that the incident "changes the equation" with respect to the conflict between Syria and its allies on one side, and "Israel" on the other.
"The ability demonstrated by our air defense forces changed the balance [in Syria's favor] by overcoming the "Israeli" air force, which used to dominate our airspace. After the downing of the F-16 we are certain that they no longer have that ability," Al-Abbas explained.
"Israel" is in a bind
"Israel's" covert and overt involvement in the Syrian conflict has suffered significant setbacks in recent years, prompting Tel Aviv to become a lot more directly engaged in the war.
However, a number of factors have hindered "Israel's" efforts to further its strategic objectives of partitioning Syria and removing the Iranian military contingent in that country.
Today, Tel Aviv is not only faced with a Syrian military that has managed to rebuild its air defenses by acquiring advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems, but it also finds itself confronting an established Iranian and Hezbollah presence along its northeastern frontier.
Moreover, "Israel's" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the opposition when the "Israeli" military attacked Lebanon in 2006, and lost, is highly skeptical of another prolonged confrontation with today's substantially stronger Hezbollah.
"The truth is that "Israel" is fearful," retired Lebanese Army General Hisham Jaber opined.
"The region was on the brink of war," he said in reference to the latest flare-up of hostilities along the Syrian-"Israeli" frontier. "Thousands of missiles from the Lebanese side would have been launched by Hezbollah. And "Israel" fears these rockets because it cannot thwart three thousand rockets."
Further limiting "Israel's" ability to retaliate against losses in Syria is the presence of Russian military bases, which are honeycombed across the country.
Russia's Vladimir Putin has already warned Netanyahu against escalating the situation further.
Both the Russians and the Syrians appear to agree that it was time to strike back and protect Syria's sovereignty from infringements that just last week killed over 100 pro-Damascus fighters when the US carried out air strikes in northeastern Syria.
The attack is also reported to have wiped out two units belonging to a Russian military contractor outfit known as the Wagner Group.
According to a former Russian diplomat, Vyacheslav Matuzov, Moscow "gave the green light to the Syrian government to down the "Israeli" jet."
Matuzov claims that this was Moscow's message to both Washington and Tel Aviv that regional realities have changed.
Meanwhile, in what looked like an attempt to disguise the growing level of desperation in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu claimed to have dealt "severe blows" to Iranian and Syrian forces.
"We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit," Netanyahu exclaimed.
But Iranian academic Dr. Mohammad Marandi believes that the latest "Israeli" setbacks in Syria should serve as a wake-up call for the leadership in Tel Aviv.
"The nature of war has changed," Dr. Marandi said. "Now we see that the Israeli air force is more vulnerable than we thought, and I believe that better air defense weapons exist in Syria but are currently kept under lock and key."
"So I think the "Israeli" regime has to be careful about how it tries to implement its interests," he added.
Netanyahu's domestic angle
An "Israeli" investigation looking into corruption allegations against Netanyahu and his wife is said to be entering its final stages.
"Israel's" Channel 2 recently reported that a police document emerged indicating that there is enough evidence to indict Netanyahu.
The probe concerns allegations that the "Israeli" leader improperly received lavish gifts from Hollywood and business figures and conducted secret talks with the publisher of a major "Israeli" newspaper, requesting positive coverage.
"Israeli" police are also recommending that Netanyahu's wife Sara be "indicted on a charge of misuse of funds."
The scandal has not only rocked the "Israeli" political establishment but has also led to mass protests in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu's government.
Those taking part in the protests and Netanyahu's growing list of enemies at home are suggesting that the recent escalations inside Syria are little more than an attempt to divert attention away from the corruption allegations that could very well spell the end of the prime minster's political career.
If true, the downing of the F-16 is certain to have come as an unexpected surprise for Netanyahu.
The incident, which further exposed "Israel's" weaknesses, appears to have left Netanyahu even more vulnerable and his enemies both at home and abroad more emboldened.