Israel Pushes the Envelope in Syria

March 21 2017

Israel has conducted more than a few airstrikes in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, but the one that took place in the pre-dawn hours on Friday morning was unusual. First, the IDF broke with precedent by taking responsibility for the attack, although it did not release any details. Second, Israeli aircraft struck much deeper into Syria than they have previously done, hitting regime positions near Palmyra. Third, they were met by enemy anti-aircraft missiles, which were then countered by Israeli anti-missile missiles. David Daoud explains:

One possibility is that the target of the Israeli strike was a weapons shipment to Hizballah at the Syrian army’s T-4 airport in western Palmyra. The Syrian military, assisted by Hizballah and the Russians, recently retook the airport from Islamic State, and the Shiite group continues to maintain a large presence there. It is likely that, since the Israelis continue to interdict weapons shipments to Hizballah at the Damascus airport, the group has begun receiving shipments at T-4 thinking it was out of the IAF’s reach. . . .

In another first, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow was summoned into the Russian foreign ministry to clarify his country’s actions. This comes shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a visit to Moscow, where he discussed Israel’s concerns over Hizballah and Iran’s growing power in Syria with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Israel’s intelligence minister commented that Jerusalem had acted without informing the Russians because the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was changing the rules of the game vis-à-vis Israel and allowing Syria to “become a dangerous hub of Hizballah activity,”

Indeed, the Syrian air defenses’ response constitutes a serious development. During past Israeli strikes on Hizballah, the Syrian army has largely stayed out of the fray. The contrast this time is a possible indication that the Assad regime perceives a positive change in its domestic fortunes, particularly after its success against rebel factions in the battle of Aleppo in December 2016.

It is doubtful that Assad was seeking a full-blown confrontation with the Israelis. More likely, he was simply trying to convey this regained confidence to his domestic foes, and also to signal to Israel that the IAF could no longer operate freely against Hizballah in Syrian territory.

Read more at Long War Journal

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war


Lessons for the U.S. from Israel’s 2007 Bombing of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor

March 23 2018

In 2007, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan came to Washington with overwhelming evidence that Syria, with North Korean help, had built a nuclear reactor for military use. After a debate among his advisers, President Bush told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had chosen to pressure Bashar al-Assad diplomatically to give up his nuclear program. Israel itself then bombed the reactor, which was located in an area that in a few years would become the heartland of Islamic State. Earlier this week, for the first time, Jerusalem publicly took responsibility for the attack. (Amnon Lord explores possible reasons for that decision here.) Elliott Abrams—then the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East—related the discussion within the White House over what to do about the reactor, and also explained what could be learned from the affair, in a 2013 article for Commentary:

The Israelis believed that if they [or American officials] spoke about the strike [after it happened], Assad might be forced to react to this humiliation by trying to attack Israel. If, however, we all shut up, he might do nothing—nothing at all. He might try to hide the fact that anything had happened. And with every day that passed, the possibility that he would acknowledge the event and fight back diminished. That had been the Israeli theory, and the Israelis knew their man. We maintained silence and so did Israel—no leaks. As the weeks went by, the chances of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation grew slim and then disappeared. Syria has never admitted that there was a reactor at the site. . . .

Two final points are worth noting. First, in May 2008, Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria were publicly announced in Istanbul. The discussions had begun secretly in February 2007, and obviously had continued after the Israeli strike on [the reactor]. It would appear that the strike . . . made the Syrians more, not less, desirous of talking to the Israelis because it made them afraid of Israeli power. It also made them more afraid of American power until we undermined our own position, which is the second point.

A very well-placed Arab diplomat later told us that the strike had left Assad deeply worried as to what was coming next. He had turned Syria into the main transit route for jihadists going to Iraq to kill American soldiers. From Libya or Indonesia, Pakistan or Egypt, they would fly to Damascus International Airport and be shepherded into Iraq. Assad was afraid that on the heels of the Israeli strike would come American action to punish him for all this involvement. But just weeks later, Assad received his invitation to send a Syrian delegation to [a] big international confab [organized by] then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Annapolis Conference, and according to the Arab envoy, Assad relaxed immediately; he knew he would be OK. . . .

Finally, this incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor, and even perhaps nuclear weapons, in hand. Israel was right to bomb that reactor before construction was completed, and President Bush was right to support its decision to do so. Israel was also right in rejecting fears that the incident would lead to a larger war and in believing that it, and the United States, would be better off after this assertion of leadership and determination.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Bashar al-Assad, George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Nuclear proliferation, Syria, US-Israel relations