As the air force Monday pondered possible lessons from Syria’s downing of an F-16 two days earlier, Syrian media depicted the achievement by its air defenses as a historic turning point and regional game changer.
“This is an event that defeated the myth of the superiority of the Israeli air force,” wrote Rifat al-Badawi in al-Watan, a newspaper owned by President Bashar Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf. “It is a strategic, political and military slap heard in Washington, Tel Aviv and Turkey and applauded by Moscow and Iran. It is a historic day and very significant in the history of the open struggle between us and the Israeli enemy.”
“We in the Arab Syrian Republic – army and people – have risen from the rubble and destruction and debris and we have gained back our health,” al-Badawi wrote.
The shooting down of an IAF plane for the first time since 1982 also preoccupied Jordanian and Palestinian commentators. The plane was felled as the IAF responded with air raids to the dispatch of an Iranian drone into Israeli territory. Although the IAF is believed to have caused massive damage with its subsequent strikes to Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, the image of the remains of the F-16 accorded a morale boost to diverse enemies of Israel.
Hamadi Faraneh, writing in Jordan’s ad-Dustour daily, asserted that “the [Syrian] slap against the enemy is a moral lift to the Palestinians against the enemy who occupies their land, confiscates their rights and violates their dignity.” He termed the setback to Israel “timely, necessary and vital.”
“It says to Palestinians that there are people who support you in the battle against the common enemy,” Faraneh wrote.
The al-Watan commentary stressed that Israelis are panicked by the shooting down of the plane.” When Israelis saw the pictures of the destroyed plane, the internal Israeli front became stunned, frightened and confused. The image of the strong Israel has been destroyed.”
Al-Badawi asserted that the downing was a blow to Saudi Arabia too.” Syria has chosen the place and time to say its word to the world, especially those Arabs who bet on Israel’s strength and went to the level of normalization and alliance to confront Syria and Iran and the resistance axis.”
“The downing of the F-16 is a Syrian and Russian message to Tel Aviv and Washington that we in Syria have changed the rules of the conflict. Things will never be the same as they were before the downing of the F-16. We Syrians, Iran and Russia now hold the reins of the initiative. Israel will not rise up from the shock in a short time. It will take a long time to heal this wound.”
In the view of Zakaria Mohammed, a Ramallah-based commentator, the felling of the plane has harmed Israeli deterrence, embarrassing Israel in the eyes of the Arab states that are drawing closer to it. “The alliance of normalization led by Saudi Arabia is built on the assumption that there is Israeli deterrence,” he wrote on Facebook. “If this deterrence has been hurt, than there is no means for this alliance.”
He added that Israel would also have to restore its image in the eyes of the country’s public. “This public is not accustomed to see an Israeli plane downed in the Galilee. The army needs to erase the image that Syria downed an airplane. The public needs security, otherwise people will reach for their second passport.”
Mohammed wrote that in order to restore its deterrent ability, Israel will seek a battle in Syria. “Perhaps this will not take place quickly. They need time. But Israel wants it to take place.”
“I expect a period of calmness followed by an explosion stronger than what happened on February 10,” Mohammed wrote.
But Muin Biyari, a Jordanian journalist writing in the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed believes that neither Israel nor Iran want an all out war now. “Iran is trying to avoid such a confrontation,” he wrote, noting that Iranian officials were silent about Israel’s striking of Iranian targets in Syria. He added that Iran has maintained “rationality for decades in facing Israeli provocations. It prefers proxy wars, as long as Hezbollah is doing its duty when necessary.”
Biyari sees a possible Russian hand in the downing of the F-16, writing that it may be a “Russian message to the government of Netanyahu that Israel should not go beyond its ceiling of understanding with Moscow” about how much it can move freely in Syrian skies.
“The downing of the F-16 is important but this importance is limited unless it changes the usual routine that Israeli planes bomb Syrian targets and come back safely,” Biyari concluded. “This will become clear in the coming days and weeks.”