(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
1. Some 14 people, Iranians among them, are reportedly dead after jets struck the Tiyas (aka T-4) airbase near Homs in Syria.
- As usual Israel is staying mum, but its game of plausible deniability has been blown up by first Russia and then Syria (which first incorrectly pointed the finger at the US) accusing Israel of carrying out the strike on the facility.
- Israel normally keeps quiet as part of its policy of allowing the enemy — usually Syria — room to maneuver without feeling compelled to hit back.
- Don’t necessarily expect Syria or Iran to attempt anything directly in response to this strike, as they’ve in the past accused Israel of being behind air attacks and not responded, though Iranian proxy Hezbollah may try something.
2. Even if there is no direct pushback, Russia’s decision to out Israel could seriously add to tensions in the north following the attack, with the Haaretz newspaper calling the Russian announcement “exceptional.”
- Israel’s Channel 10 news surmises that the attack will actually end up boosting Assad’s backing by his two main allies: “A strike like this will strengthen the Russian regime’s backing since it runs against Moscow’s interests. The fact that the base that was attacked was under Iranian control, and there are reports of Iranians killed, also strengthens Tehran’s support for the Bashar Assad regime.”
3. Most Israeli news reports note that the Tiyas base was previously targeted by an admitted Israeli airstrike in January, during a heavy day of fighting following the infiltration of an Iranian drone apparently sent from the base. That day ended with the downing of an Israeli fighter jet and fears of a wider conflagration breaking out.
- “Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time according to The Times of Israel.
4. This time around, it’s not completely clear what was behind the apparent Israeli attack on the site, but it does come a day after a massive chemical attack by the Assad regime sparked Israeli calls for action and US President Donald Trump’s promise of a “big price to pay,” (which may be why Syria at first assumed the strike had come from the US).
- Haaretz, citing Arabic news site al-Meyadeen, notes Russian “experts” are claiming the strike was in response to a tripartite meeting held between leaders from Moscow, Tehran and Ankara over Syria last week, with Israel dispatched as a proxy for the US, which cannot directly engage with Russia.
- That meeting did indeed set Israeli alarm bells ringing. “Iran sees the results of the Ankara summit as a green light to set up base in Syria, a worrying prospect for Israel,” Israel Hayom quotes an ephemeral voice in the Israeli defense establishment saying.
- Housing Minister Yoav Galant hints that it may have had more to do with weapons transfers, telling Israel Radio, “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”
5. Filed under possibly related, the strike came hours after Lebanese media reported about three days of constant Israeli drone overflights in the areas of Baalbek and Akkar, deep in Lebanon and near a corridor used for weapons transfers between Syria and Hezbollah.
What bothers the Lebanese isn’t so much the invasion of their airspace, though, but rather the annoying noise the UAVs make: “The ceaseless hovering sounds are irritating the residents of the mountainous villages and towns,” Naharnet reports, quoting an NNA report.
6. The address of the strike, on an Iranian base and not a Syrian chemical facility, points to the low probability that the strike had anything to do with the Douma attack. But it comes after Israel was up in arms along with much of the rest of the world Sunday over the attack, which killed dozens, including children.
- All three Israeli dailies feature the same image of a man in a gas mask holding a small child injured in the chemical attack, with both tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom employing the headline “Childrens’ massacre.”
- “If words could kill, Assad and his backers in Moscow and Tehran would have good reason to worry,” reads the lede in Israel Hayom, highlighting both anger over the attack and the lack of actual action over it.
- Yedioth describes the scene as a father tried to wake his unmoving daughter, sprawled out on the floor. “Wake up, wake up. I’ll bring you chocolate,” he tells her, but like others is left without answers.
7. Pundits in the Israeli media are all of one mind in pointing at not just Assad but also Putin as being to blame for the brazen attack (as well as US President Donald Trump for saying he is pulling out of Syria).
- “Trump’s interest in events in Syria had, as a practical matter, come to an end,” Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes of the last time the US responded to a chemical attack last year. “Even if the United States carries out another punitive attack at this time, Assad knows that he can do almost anything he feels like, with Russian backing, and that the Americans are on their way out.”
- “The Russians are giving full military and diplomatic support to Assad, the Iranians and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah are on his side anyway, and there is no state body that can act as a counterweight to Moscow or even Tehran in the contest for the future of Syria. Assad knows that he is free to slaughter, murder, bomb, and lay waste to every opposition enclave, large or small. Even if he needs to use chemical weapons again,” Avi Issacharoff writes in The Times of Israel.
- Adds Oded Granot in Israel Hayom: “It seems that Putin, whose poisoning of the spy in London proves he knows something about chemical weapons, is not really moved by Western admonitions of him standing ‘on the wrong side of history.’”
8. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have actions, but not words, according to a compromise agreement reached Sunday regarding next week’s Independence Day torchlighting ceremony. The deal will see the prime minister light a torch but not give a speech.
- Yet all is not settled. Yedioth reports that “attempts to claim political victory have led to more bickering between Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev” and “the Knesset speaker says Netanyahu will be able to add a few words, but associates of the prime minister say he will get two to three minutes to speak.”
- Either way, Haaretz pundit Yossi Verter notes that Netanyahu will be able to walk away saying that “in the end, I got what I wanted.”
9. While Netanyahu is sinking free throws, poor Omri Casspi is doubly down. First the Israeli NBA player was cut from the Golden State Warriors just before the playoffs. Now it comes out that he will not be able to light a torch on Independence Day, as had been planned, because the Warriors refused to release him.
- Casspi was waived by Golden State on the same day that the names of the torch-lighters were announced, too late for him to take back his refusal, according to Hebrew media reports.
10. Perhaps a torch could open itself up. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the decision to give a torch to Honduran President Juan Hernandez, the first graduate of an Israeli course for overseas development to become a head of state, is continuing to make waves, with former diplomats unhappy with the move.
- “Seemingly wanting to give respect to the International Development Cooperation branch, (which deserves it), they are whitewashing this terrible president,” former senior diplomat Gideon Meir is quoted saying on Twitter.
- Amid the hubbub, the Ynet news website reports Monday that Hernandez is considering canceling his appearance, and has relayed the message to Israel.