It is not clear that the United States would have been able to convince even Jordan or Iraq to necessarily acquiesce to the plan. Though a staunch ally of the United States and traditional partner of Israel’s, Jordan only recently ended a major diplomatic spat with the country over the murder of two Jordanian nationals outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman in 2017. It’s not at all certain if relations have improved in the interceding weeks to a place where the two might conspire on convert military action.
Iraq, which maintains diplomatic and military ties with Russia, Iran, and Syria, seems even less likely to have agreed to such a plan. If they did not consent to the operation, Iraqi officials could easily have decided to pass along any advance warning of the strikes to the Assad regime.
The Israeli aircraft could have obviated the need for tanker support by skipping the Iraq part of the run, instead cutting through southern Syria near the U.S. military's At Tanf garrison, where American aircraft routinely patrol. This still would have involved flying through Jordanian airspace, though.
All told, it’s hard to see all these pieces aligning for the Israeli operation to go off without any issues whatsoever. In addition, Israel could simply have released SDBs at targets in Hama at least from near the Lebanese-Syrian border, a common tactic seen in multiple previous strikes, which has largely shielded the aircraft from retaliation.
The Israeli jets could have similarly briefly violated Turkish airspace at supersonic speed to do the same against Syria’s Nairab Military Airport in Aleppo. In 2007, F-15Is and F-16Is flew through Turkey on their way to destroy Syria’s covert nuclear reactor in the eastern Deir ez-Zor governorate.
Of course, using such a route in the April 29, 2018 strikes could have carried its own risks given the Turkish Government’s growing relations with Russia and Iran and its very public disputes with the United States and its coalition fighting ISIS. Turkey has shot down Russian and Syrian aircraft that have strayed into its airspace since 2014.
Another possibility to explain the apparent lack of activity from Syrian air defenses is that they suffered some sort of electronic warfare or cyber attacks ahead of or during the operation. During a separate reported incident on the night of April 16-17, 2018, there were claimsthat the United States and Israel had launched a combined, non-kinetic assault on targets in Syria.
At the time, this seemed odd, since there were no reported strikes associated with the incident and it seemed unlikely that Israel would employ these countermeasures by themselves. It was possible that electronic or cyber attacks were part of previous intelligence or reconnaissance mission or were a dry run to test out advanced countermeasures ahead of just such a real strike. It’s also worth noting that Israel reportedly employed a computer program called Suter to misdirect Syrian radars and clear a path during the aforementioned strike in Deir ez-Zor in 2007.
There have also been rumors in the past that Israel's F-35I stealth fighters have taken part in previous strikes. Though those earlier reports seemed unlikely, these jets would have been able to pierce through Syria's air defense network to drop SDBs onto the targets with a low likelihood of detection.
It's also entirely possible that Syrian air defenses just remain largely ineffective in responding to aerial attacks. In February 2018, Syria's forces did bring down an Israeli F-16I multi-role combat jet, but this is the only kill they've scored against a manned aircraft in some 18 months of Israeli air strikes. They only reportedly managed to fire two surface-to-air missiles during the massive U.S.-led missile barrage against Assad's chemical weapons infrastructure on April 14, 2018, lobbing dozens more into the empty sky afterward.
However Israeli aircraft were able to pull off the strike, the Israeli government has made abundantly clear it continues to be willing to strike at Iran and its interests in Syria. The country’s officials have made it clear that they view growing Iranian military activities and influence in Syria, as well as expanding support for its proxies, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as threats worth neutralizing despite increasing risks.
“On the list of the potentials for most likely live hostility around the world, the battle between Israel and Iran in Syria is at the top of the list right now,” one of NBC’s anonymous senior U.S. sources said. We at The War Zone have come to much the same conclusion after observing the steadily increasing volume and the changing focus of Israeli strikes into Syria.
Whether it is doing so with greater direct support from the United States or not, Israel looks determined to keep up the pressure on Iran and it seems almost certain that we will continue to see more aerial raids in the near future.
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