More than forty years ago in the autumn of 1973, Israeli Air Force fighter jets shot down 13 Syrian MIG-21s in a dogfight. The clash occurred over the Syrian port of Tartous, nearly 200 kilometres deep into Syria, resulting also in the Israelis losing one of their Mirage jets. The Israeli aircraft were on a reconnaissance mission, as Israel grew suspicious of a bigger than usual concentration of Syrian troops on the other side of the Golan Heights. The absence of retaliation by Syria for the heavy loss raised a few eyebrows in the Israeli military establishment, though without any definitive conclusion. The reason for the lack of Syrian response came few weeks later. On October 6, Syria and Egypt launched a coordinated surprise attack on Israel. This attack was an effort to break the political stalemate at the time and regain the Golan Heights which Israel had occupied six years earlier. For nearly four decades following that war, the Israeli-Syrian border was one of the calmest of Israel’s shared borders. This is no longer the case, and though there are only sporadic incidents across the border, the mood is increasingly tense. The shooting down by an Israeli Patriot missile battery of a Syrian Sukhoi 24, which was said to be on a mission to bomb anti-government groups on Syrian border last Tuesday, obviously adds to these growing tensions. The Syrian fully armed fighter jet, that infiltrated Israeli controlled airspace over the Golan Heights, most likely strayed from its intended flight path. The Israeli decision to shoot down the Syrian aircraft demonstrates the zero-tolerance approach the decision makers in Jerusalem are taking to any cross border firing or infiltration. It is also a good indication of the nervousness of Israeli strategists in regarding developments inside Syria and their unpredictability.
Israeli military strategy regarding Syria is limited in its scope, aims and is more nuanced than usualYossi Mekelberg