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First, some necessary background information: on July 30, 1970, Israeli and Soviet pilots clashed over the Suez Canal Zone. In the brief three-minute dogfight the Israelis shot down five Russian Mig-21 without losing a single plan. It was at the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US in the Middle East. Moscow was backing Cairo to the hilt not only with advanced weapons but also with military advisors. However, Russian experts got fed up with Israel's air superiority in Egyptian skies. So Soviet pilots started flying Egyptian Migs to take on the Israelis with the goal of showing "how it was done". But all that we nearly five decades ago.

Prime Minister Netanyahu wisely forged a deal with Putin that enabled Israeli air strikes on the Iranian military bases in Syria ...

Now the US, no longer dependant on Saudi oil, has withdrawn from this region and enabled Russia to exert its dominance over neighboring Syrian. Today, the Jewish state is on its own in the current confrontation with Russia. With the Syrian Civil War winding down, Prime Minister Netanyahu wisely forged a deal with President Putin that enabled Israeli air strikes on the Iranian military bases in Syria that would obviously threaten Israel. On this score Putin does not want to share control over Syria with Tehran, therefore, Putin had no beef with Israeli airstrikes on Syrian targets, but on one crucial condition - no Russian personnel could be harmed.

This worked admirably for a period of time, but the unexpected suddenly stepped in, as is often the case on the battlefield. Three weeks ago, at the end of an Israeli air strike on Iranian targets, the Israeli jets were already long gone and landing back home in Israel before the panicking Syrians launched Helter Skelter scores of anti-aircraft rockets hoping one of them would hit an Israeli jet. Unfortunately, a lumbering propellor-flown Russian reconnaissance aircraft was hit in this missile barrage. It crashed, killing all of its 15-member crew. The Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry hit the roof. They held Israel responsible. The Russian-Israel understanding was now in deep jeopardy. In this case, the Israeli airforce command apparently had not taken into account that the Syrian personal operating the Russian missiles would be so incompetent as to shoot down a Russian aircraft after the Israeli jets had long gone. In retrospect, perhaps the Israeli Airforce should have considered this contingency because obviously, the last thing that Israel wanted was to cross swords with Russia. The other possibility could be a devious Syrian plot to deliberately shoot down a Russian plane so that the blame would be leveled at Israel for the original sin.

In any case, this has been the fallout from the who sorry affair - Russia has warned Israel about over-flying Syria while Israeli spokesmen, including Netanyahu, have declared that Israel will not sit still while Iran builds another forwards military base in neighboring Syria, similar as it has done with Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Moreover, Putin has responded by immediately sending the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to system that is now operated by Russian personnel until the Syrians are trained.

Israel's F-35 sleuth fighter-bombers are now operational and can cope with the S-300

As for the Israel Airforce, it is now tasked with preventing the Iranian buildup without over-flying Syria. Meanwhile, Israeli experts and at least one cabinet minister have disclosed that Israel's F-35 sleuth fighter-bombers are now operational and can cope with the S-300. But obviously targeting Russian S-300 missile batteries, whether they are manned by Russian professionals or Syrian jackasses, is not something Jerusalem takes lightly, and justly so. There may be other options. The IDF has been developing surface-to-surface missiles, and who knows, maybe they could be employed to avoid another fiasco.

Amid this ongoing crisis, Bibi has just told the Israeli Cabinet that he spoke today with Putin and that the two leaders agreed to meet again in the near future to continue the important security cooperation between the IDF and the Russian Army. The Prime Minister added, "Israel will act anytime to prevent Iran from getting a military foothold in Syrian and to bar Tehran from sending deadly weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon."

However, it now seems reasonable to assume that Israeli jets will lay off more airstrikes until Putin and Netanyahu agree on new guidelines.

The unexpected is often the Middle East norm

Sharon's 143rd Division, crossing the Suez Canal, in the direction of Cairo, 15 October 1973. (photo credit: IDF)

On this score, October 6, the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, has come and gone leaving behind the shadow of another massive miscalculation. Or, as a former US Secretary of Defense once said, "We don't know what we don't know." These are the kinds of dilemmas that face Israel in its struggle for survival in what is probably the most volatile region on the planet. Back then, Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, had what should have been conclusive evidence that Egypt and Syria were just hours away from launching a huge surprise attack. However, the Israeli leaders refused to mobilize the IDF for a preemptive strike. Then it was widely believed that the Israeli air force would be capable of stemming the Arab assault until the reserved could be mobilized and rushed to the two separate fronts. Golda and Dayan were also worried that the US would blame Israel for triggering the Yom Kippur War! The Jewish state paid with 2,412 soldiers killed, thousands more wounded, and many veterans today still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, not all is doom and gloom. Despite the current confrontation with Russia there is an upside - Jerusalem's silent alliance with the Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf States. These Arab countries are categorically opposed to the Iranian Shiite Regime that is bent on trying to rule the Arab world. Remember the Iranians and also the Turks, who love to meddle in the region, are not Arabs who by and large detest their interference in Arab affairs. This is the basis for the emerging silent alliance between the Jewish state and most of its Arab neighbors.

Political Analyst David Essing


David Essing

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