From The National
The hidden battle in Syria -- the one that rarely appears on our television screens -- has been raging for years between Israel and a coalition comprising the Syrian government, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
Watching over the proceedings without directly intervening has been Russia, although that might be about to change.
The prize is control over Syrian territory but the battlefield is Syria's skies.
According to United Nations figures, the Israeli military violated Syrian airspace more than 750 times in the four-month period leading up to last October, with its warplanes and drones spending some 3,200 hours over the country. On average, more than six Israeli aircraft entered Syrian airspace each day in that period.
Since war broke out in Syria just over seven years ago, Israeli fighter jets are believed to have carried out hundreds of offensive missions.
Israel regards the stakes as high. It wants Syria to remain an enfeebled state, ensuring Bashar Al Assad's government cannot again become a regional foe. But Israel also needs to prevent other powerful, hostile actors from being drawn into the resulting vacuum.
Israel achieved one major aim early on: Western powers insisted that the Syrian government be disarmed of its large arsenal of chemical weapons, Damascus's only deterrent against an Israeli nuclear threat.
Since then, Israel's focus has shifted to Iran and blocking its ambitions on various fronts: to prop up Mr Al Assad, establish a military presence close to Israel's northern border and use Syria as a conduit for transferring arms to Hezbollah.
Iran's aim is to recreate a balance of terror between the two sides and free itself from diplomatic isolation; Israel's is to maintain its military pre-eminence and dominance of the Middle East's skies.
In addition, Israel seeks to exploit Syria's collapse to claim permanent title over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in violation of international law.
Mike Pompeo, the hawkish new US Secretary of State, is due in Jerusalem on Sunday to discuss the fate of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, due for renewal next month.
Israel hopes the US will tear up the deal, allowing sanctions to be intensified and forcing Iran to concentrate on its diplomatic woes and mounting protests at home rather than project its influence into Syria.
In the meantime, tensions are ratcheting up in Syria. Unusually, Israel admitted this month that it was behind a strike on an Iranian base in Syria that killed seven Iranian troops. According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel targeted an anti-aircraft battery under construction, one Tehran hoped would limit Israel's freedom to patrol Syria's skies.
The attack followed Israel's interception of a drone over northern Israel, presumably dispatched to gain the same kind of intelligence about Israeli military bases that Israel has of Iranian bases in Syria.
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