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Did Israel Deliberately Miss Unidentified Drone that Entered Israeli Air Space From Syria?

This image made from a video released by the Israel Defense Forces shows the downing of a drone that entered Israeli airspace in southern Israel on Saturday. (photo credit: AP/Israel Defense Forces via AP video)

Golan Heights July 17th: 5:00 PM:

An unidentified pilotless drone flies into Israeli air space from Syria. Israeli Air Force controllers launch a Patriot (American made) surface-to-air missile. It misses the target. A second Patriot goes streaking skyward. It also goes wide. An Israeli jet then fires an air-to-air rocket - again no bull's eye. After penetrating Israeli airspace by some four kilometers (over two miles) the drone turns around and then flies back unharmed into Syria. A small part of a Patriot missile falls on the head of an Israeli girl far below. She is not seriously hurt.

Did the Israeli Air Force strike out? This is not supposed to happen - eyebrows are raised and an urgent inquiry gets underway. This is a very big deal. Israel is considered to have a cracker-jack air defense system and really needs it with the continual threats of Hezbollah and Syria in the north and Hamas down south. And overshadowing all else is the Iranian specter - that one day the Ayatollahs may give the order to nuke Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile Hezbollah was quick to claim credit. It declared the drone had been sent 'to test Israel's air defenses and had returned safely to base'. It's possible but still not certain.

Other possibilities: Bare in mind a drone may be only 25% the size of a fighter jet. Moreover it does not have a high heat signature of a powerful engine. So such a small target is not easy to hit.

On the other hand, and this is the most vexing case, maybe the Russians have developed a new evasion capability for drones that can blind attacking missiles. This would pose a serious threat to Israel's air defenses, and not only in the Syrian arena. What if Moscow sold such a system to Iran as it has the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft system that is now deployed? If so, this would be a breakthrough - not only would it keep Israeli but also American and NATO military experts awake at night.

Let's continue on our flight of fancy - there are other possibilities. Suppose the Israeli personnel that launched the Patriots and the Israeli pilot all screwed up? That's also possible but highly improbable.

Take it from another and completely different angle. What if IAF air controllers had identified immediately that they were looking at a Russian drone? Maybe it had strayed off course into Israeli air space. What to do? Remember President Vladimir Putin's rage when Turkey shot down a Russian jet that had flown a couple of kilometers into Turkish air space?

Last fall, after Putin launched his massive military intervention in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad, Netanyahu flew straight to Moscow to work out an understanding with Putin. The goal was to prevent any miscalculations between Jerusalem and Moscow in Syria, where both were now operating. So maybe in order to avoid a clash with Russia, Israel decided to abort the Patriots and the air-to-air missile. At the same time, Israel had made clear that it means business about any foreign aircraft flying into its airspace.

The background: Russian jets fly as they like over Syria, as do the U.S. and NATO jets as well as Israeli aircraft from time to time. But the Russians sometimes come close to the Israeli border. So in this aerial free-for-all over what was once Syria, an Israeli Air Force officer has described what happens when a Russian jet strays into Israeli airspace - the IAF air controller gets on the radio communication immediately:

       'Good day, this is the Israeli air controller. I wish to inform that you have strayed into Israeli airspace. Please alter your course to exit. Have a good day'.

So far it has succeeded in forestalling any Israeli-Russian clash in the sky over Syria. Both have agreed to respect each other's interests - Putin to prevent the fall of Assad, Israel to block Iran from shipping 'game-changing weapons' to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria.

And one Israeli unofficial source has raised this sheer speculation: what if Israel has sold some of its own drones to a foreign source that resold them to the Russians? Israel is considered to be a leader in the field. So what if the intruder was actually an Israeli drone now in service with the Russian military? Israeli air controllers would have immediately identified its high-tech emissions and realized it was being operated by the Russians.

Deterrence is the key...

Just how does Israel cope with a level of security threats greater than any other country in the world? With a Jewish population of only 6.4 million, less than New York City, Israel must be constantly on its toes. The harsh reality is that if Israel loses even one war, it will be wiped off the map, as declared by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Daesh and most of the Palestinians. Even the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to recognize the 'Jewish’ state. This fact of life is often ignored by those arm-chair kibitzers and even professional politicians who think nothing of ripping Israel for not making dangerous concessions they would never accept for their own countries.

So after being thoroughly briefed by security officials on all Israel's deepest secrets, it was interesting to hear what Avigdor Lieberman would tell the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee when he gave his first briefing. It was behind closed doors but some of his remarks were made public.

       'If anyone tries to force a military confrontation on us, it must end by our thoroughly defeating the enemy. We must eliminate any wish or motivation to mess with us a second time, therefore deterrence is the key word'.

Lieberman added that Israel faces the most complex challenges. No other state must cope with so many threats. This is the list that includes Daesh in Sinai, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al Qaeda in Syria and worst of all Iran. And he warned that all these enemies have one top target:

       'In the next war, they all intend to hit the home front first and Israel's innocent civilians. Therefore civil defense is getting a higher priority than ever before'.

But there is a second part of the equation. If, as Lieberman disclosed, the Arab enemies plan on pulverizing Israeli civilians, then it can be assumed that the Israeli government has ordered the IDF to prepare a contingency plan to unleash an extremely powerful counter-offensive to halt the bombardment of Israeli civilians as swiftly as possible.

As for Iran, it is still up to its old tricks. Take for example Tehran's latest ballistic missile test based on the technology of its buddy North Korea. It was Iran's fourth banned ballistic missile test since it signed the nuclear deal with the world powers a year ago. The test conducted inside Iran failed, but the Iranians can be counted on for more of the same. And why do Iran's ballistic missiles arouse such angst? Because they are designed to deliver weapons. As far as is known, this time the Iranian missile was not inscribed with Tehran's favorite slogan 'Israel must be annihilated!'

Erdogan: 'Business as usual on rapprochement with Israel'...

But on the up side: Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan may be wielding an iron fist against his opponents at home but he has informed Netanyahu that this will not affect his decision to improve ties with Israel. Soon after putting down the coup, the Turks sent a positive message to Israel's leader:

       'We are not retreating from the accord with Israel and the coup attempt and recent developments in Turkey will not have any influence'.

An Israel official also disclosed that Ankara thanked Netanyahu for his message of support after the failed coup. Later the PM told the Israeli cabinet that he assumed that the rapprochement would continue without any connection to the dramatic developments in Turkey.


David Essing

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