The director of the Central Intelligence Agency visited Israel this past week for previously unannounced high-level meetings regarding concerns that the Jewish state is in danger of becoming embroiled in the protracted Syrian conflict. John Brennan held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; military chief of staff Benny Gantz; head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo; and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the visit was prompted by “the American fear of escalation in the region against the backdrop of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah's threats to act against Israel in the Golan Heights and the American sense that Israel is disappointed by the ineffectuality of the Obama administration with regard to the ongoing deterioration in Syria." The British newspaper The Guardian claimed that the purpose of Brennan’s trip was "to coordinate a joint policy between the two countries and prevent Israel from taking action on its own in Syria," which has been ensnared in a brutal civil war for the past two years.
Immediately after his arrival, Brennan traveled to IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv to meet with Ya’alon. During their discussion, the two officials shared intelligence assessments about the current situation, and the defense minister reinforced Israel’s refusal to allow the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. Ya’alon insisted that his government would continue to promulgate air strikes against all such arms shipments. The defense minister and the CIA chief also conferred about Iran’s nuclear activities and other regional dangers.
On two occasions over the past several weeks, Israel conducted air attacks around Damascus to destroy Fateh-110 ground-to-ground missile consignments that were en route to Hezbollah via Syria from Iran.
The Brennan-Ya’alon get-together comes in the immediate aftermath of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Russia and meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The Israeli leader informed Putin that Moscow’s sale of the S-300 missile defense system to Syrian President Bashar Assad could destabilize the Middle East to the point of all-out war.
In a clear rebuff of Netanyahu’s warning, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avowed that while Russia was “not signing any new deals,” it would back up existing contracts with Syria, including the agreement to transfer the controversial S-300 air-defense systems. “We’ve already carried out some of the deal,” Lavrov stated, “and we will carry the rest of it out in full.”
During their discussions, Netanyahu reportedly told Putin that the S-300 was not relevant to Assad’s civil-war fighting against rebel groups, and he urged Moscow not to deliver the defense systems. The prime minister said that if Assad would obtain it, the S-300 — a state-of-the-art system that has the ability to intercept fighter jets and cruise missiles — “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war.”
According to an Israeli source, Netanyahu told Putin the S-300s are a weapons system that “shatters Israel's qualitative edge,” most likely because it would significantly restrict the Israeli Air Force’s freedom of movement over Syria and its neighbor Lebanon. The source further said that the Jewish state would “firmly oppose” the transfer of S-300s to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel reportedly issued a warning last week to Assad that it was looking at the option of carrying out additional attacks on Syria, and that it would “bring down” his regime in the event of his retaliation.
Separately, Israel Radio reported last week that Iran had asked Syria to allow Hezbollah to open a new front against Israel from Syrian territory. The Lebanese daily newspaper al-Akhbar suggested last week that Iran had “reached a final decision” to react to reported Israeli airstrikes on a weapons transfer in Syria by “turning the Golan into a new Fatah-land. The front has become open to Syrians and Palestinians and anyone who wants to fight Israel.”