David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany during World War II on May 9, 2018 at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow. (AFP/Yuri Kadobnov)
According to Hebrew TV news reports on Wednesday night, Iran was literally minutes away from launching a salvo of missiles into northern Israel late Tuesday when an airstrike attributed to Israel eliminated the threat. Eight Iranians were among the 15 reported fatalities in the strike at a base in Kisweh, south of Damascus.
Israel patently does not believe the danger of an Iranian strike has passed — public bomb shelters in the north are being opened, the IDF chief of staff toured the north on Wednesday, Iron Dome rocket defense systems are being deployed and tanks are heading north.
But the Iranians, who launched a drone carrying explosives into Israel from Syria three months ago, are since being battered there by intermittent airstrikes attributed to Israel, which evidently maintains air supremacy and extremely effective intelligence-gathering and is adamant that it will not allow Iran to establish a serious military presence in President Bashar Assad’s bloody, anarchic country.
To date, Iran’s relentless efforts to deepen its military foothold in Syria would appear to have been tolerated by the real powerbroker in that country, Russia.
An Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is deployed in northern Israel on May 7, 2018. (Jalaa Mary/AFP)
But there, too, Wednesday brought more negative indications for Tehran: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin with particular pomp and circumstance.
Netanyahu, who was received at a ceremony where Israel’s national anthem was played, spent several hours in Putin’s company and was at the president’s side for Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade, which this year marked 73 years since the Red Army defeat of Nazi Germany.
This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missiles targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belonged to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard in Kisweh. (Syria News, via AP)
The prime minister paid respectful tribute to the “tremendous sacrifice by the Russian people and the sacrifice of the Red Army in defeating the Nazi monster” and paralleled that Nazi threat to the danger posed to the Jewish state today by Iran: “We don’t forget the great lesson of the need to face murderous ideology in time,” he told his host. “It is hard to believe, but 73 years after the Holocaust there is a country in the Middle East, Iran, that is calling for the destruction of six million Jews.”
A warm welcome and plenty of Putin time is no guarantee of practical measures on the ground, but as Netanyahu headed home from Russia on Wednesday evening, he was indicating that he did not believe Israel’s air supremacy in the skies over Syria was going to be compromised. Time will tell whether Russia reins in the Iranians in Syria, but Netanyahu evidently believes Putin is not about to stop Israel reining them in.
Putin was hosting Netanyahu hours after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. It’s an agreement Putin emphatically supports, and that Netanyahu emphatically despises. If Iran had hoped that their differences over the deal would prompt Putin to keep Netanyahu at arm’s length, the prime minister’s Moscow visit showed the opposite.
Meanwhile, Trump on Wednesday warned Iran of “very severe consequences” were it to resume its nuclear program. Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was predictably dismissive of the US president, calling the statement in which Trump announced he was withdrawing the US from the nuclear deal on Tuesday full of lies, “silly and superficial,” and warning the US president that he was making a big mistake.
In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, November 1, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Is Iran about to call Trump’s bluff? President Hassan Rouhani has hinted that Iran may consider resuming uranium enrichment. Is Iran going to keep trying to strike at Israel from Syria, even if Putin is disapproving? The Israeli assessment is almost certainly yes.
But for all its public derision of the Trump administration, its relentless efforts to weaken Israel, and its undimmed strategy of regional expansion, these are challenging days for the ruthless Iranian regime.