“Do not fear them, for it is Hashem your God who will battle for you.” Deuteronomy 3:22 (The Israel Bible™)
Saturday’s infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace is unlikely to change Israel’s operational activity, according to Sima Shine, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and former deputy director-general at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
In a press conference over the phone on Sunday, Shine maintained that the incident, although an important development raising some operational questions, does not at all undermine Israel’s air superiority in the region.
Shine, who was responsible for handling Iranian affairs at the ministry from 2009-2015 and was heavily involved in Israel’s diplomatic efforts regarding Iran, spoke about the strategic ramifications of Saturday’s incident for various regional actors and specifically, Iran.
“The Iranians have paid a huge price for what happened yesterday,” she said. “The vehicle that was responsible for operating the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was destroyed, which was probably a sophisticated system, and was hit by the Israeli air force.”
“In the second round of the air force attacks, there were some other Iranian sites and facilities that were attacked, though some of them have not yet been revealed,” she continued.
“All together, from the point of view of the timing, it was very bad politically for the Iranians, which brings me to the conclusion that there was no dialogue between the operational channel and the political one.”
Shine believes there’s a possibility that Iranian military staff on the ground in Syria gave the order to launch the drone without getting official approval from Tehran.
“Islamic Republic Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria perhaps decided that this was operationally the best time for them to do it, even without the approval of President Rouhani in Tehran who is still trying to maintain relations with the Europeans via economic investment and cooperation,” she said.
Shine claimed that whoever have the order to launch the drone reason perhaps did so with the intentions of showing the enhanced level of Iran’s flexibility in the region and demonstrating Tehran’s ability to militarily operate in another country.
“It is a way for the Iranians to show that they could enter Israel, make photos and launch an explosion and make damage to Israel,” she suggested.
Iran’s official position, according to Shine, is to distance itself from Saturday’s event and claim that it has nothing to do with Tehran.
“It looks a little bit ridiculous as it is clearly understood that this was an Iranian operation from the beginning until the end,” she remarked.
Even though Israel managed to strike 12 targets within Syria in response to the infiltration of the Iranian drone, Shane believes that the successful targeting of an Israeli F16 on Saturday with surface to air anti-aircraft missiles was itself a success for Syria.
“The fact that they hit an Israeli warplane is a success,” she said.
Shine also maintained that while the Iranians probably did not notify Russia in advance before launching the drone, Russian officials on the ground in Syria may have known beforehand and even played a role in shooting the anti-aircraft missiles.
“Our understanding is that Syria’s anti-aircraft system is operating together with Russian advisors who may have been part of the decision to launch those missiles against our planes,” she noted.
Shine perceives that neither Israel Syria or Iran for that matter has an interest in further escalation, although the possibility most definitely remains.
“Such an event may repeat in the future as both sides are continuing to develop what they believe to be their red lines and operational activities,” she explained.