The situation in Israel's northern arena is continuously escalating. The incident that took place on Saturday is another step in this process. In my opinion, the way Israel handled the incident proves that the IDF is unquestionably capable of responding quickly, based on accurate intelligence. The downing of the Israeli jet needs to be thoroughly investigated and I'm sure this will be carried out. Nonetheless, the Israeli public needs to understand that sometimes when there is fighting, casualties occur.
In past years, the fighting in Syria involved troops loyal to Assad and rebel forces. Now, the Russians and Iranians (through Hezbollah) have become involved and this has greatly shaped the Assad regime, which currently controls about 75% of Syrian territory. For this reason, preserving Syrian sovereignty vis-à-vis the Syrian people is becoming more and more important to the ruling regime, and its response to Israel Air Force airplanes is a clear sign of this.
This escalating situation came to be following an Iranian strategy to take advantage of the campaign in Syria. Iran infiltrated Syria further and brought in Shi'ite militias – thousands of terrorists whom they wish to turn into a fighting force against the State of Israel. In addition, they plan to install Iranian air and navy military forces alongside Hezbollah troops. In short, their plan is to surround the State of Israel with proxy forces that will carry out terrorist activities against Israel, all the way to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel has made it absolutely clear that it will not allow Iran and its cohorts to control land that touches Israel's border, and rightly so. The major powers that can stop this process are the Russians and the Americans, However, the diplomatic efforts that have been made so far with the Russians and Americans have not borne any fruit. I personally have met with Russian officials three times over the last 18 months as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. At the most recent meeting, we made it clear to them exactly where our red lines lie, and warned them that if the process of Iranization doesn’t stop, the result will be an escalation of violence that will lead to an all-out war on Israel's northern front. This would not be in the best interests of Israel, Russia or the US.
In the meantime, the Russians are nodding their heads in agreement, saying they understand the problem, and that they also don't want any Iranian forces in Syria. But they also don't plan on using any significant amount of force to put a stop to this process. The Americans, to our great disappointment, are doing nothing about this issue except for offering lip service.
Unless a big change occurs in the near future, it is almost inevitable that a military campaign will take place on Israel's northern border. The Israeli government must continue making tenacious diplomatic efforts to convince the Russians and Americans to intervene and prevent a war from breaking out.
At the same time, the State of Israel must prepare for battle. The IDF is doing a great job with preparations, but the civilian populations – especially Israelis living in the north – are nowhere near ready. The government called for all homes in northern Israel to be equipped with security rooms a mere three weeks ago.
The incident on Saturday is a reminder that we need to move quickly to protect Israeli citizens.
The author, a retired IDF Major General, served as deputy and commander of the IDF Northern Corps. He is currently a member of the Zionist Union Party and sits on the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.