“Night turned to day,” is how one Syrian resident described Israel’s attack near Jamraya base Sunday, May 5.
The strike was the second in 48-hours and the third in the last several months. This one, however, left Syrian officials threatening war.
CNN quoted Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad calling Sunday’s attack a “declaration of war.” The Iranian foreign minister urged countries to resist Israel.
“[Tehran] will not allow the enemy [Israel] to harm the security of the region,” Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief-of-staff told Al-Alam TV in Iran. He noted, “The resistance will retaliate to the Israeli aggression against Syria.”
But as the smoke clears, analysts are suggesting initial calls for war are nothing more than rhetoric. Syria, said Mideast experts, is not in a place to confront Israel.
“The Syrian army has been fighting a vicious war for the past two years. It has taken heavy losses – soldiers, equipment and just the general wear-and-tear of the last two years. They can’t do anything now,” said Aryeh Savir, director of the international division of Tazpit News Agency. He said the Syrian government’s primary objective remains to press the rebels.
“They aren’t going to waste their energy, personnel or time on Israel,” he said.
Matthew RJ Brodsky, director of policy for Jewish Policy Center, expressed similar sentiments and said any calls for war were likely “Iran speaking through the Syrian megaphone.”
Brodsky said that if anyone were to counter Israel right now, it would be Hezbollah. And Israel’s reported strike was likely a strike against weapons headed for transfer from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah.
Intelligence reports say the strike, which occurred around 3 a.m. Sunday, attacked stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah. While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would not confirm the strike, he has repeatedly made clear – including in a routine address on Sunday – that his primary role and goal is to ensure Israel’s future and security.
Fateh-110 missiles have precision guidance systems with better aim than anything Hezbollah is known to have in its arsenal. It is known as the “conqueror” in Farsi, and is a short-range ballistic missile developed by Iran and first put into service in 2002. Iran unveiled an upgraded version in 2012 with increased accuracy and ability to strike targets up to 185 miles away.
Israel’s military on Sunday did deploy two Iron Dome batteries to the north of the country.
Making Right On The Red
While likely Israel will be able to “get away” with this attack, taking advantage of the chaos inside Syria, there is a message that the Jewish state sent with the recent event: Israel’s strikes on Syria are a signal to Damascus’ ally, Tehran, that Israel is serious about the red lines it has set.
“Israel will not allow weapons to be transferred to terrorist organizations,” said Brodsky.
“Today’s press is hailing Netanyahu’s leadership,” said Savir. “He drew a line and he is sticking to it.”
Not as much can be said for the moves of the U.S. President.
President Barack Obama failure to act, despite setting the use of chemical weapons as a red line both in August 2012 and again in March 2013, has set a dangerous precedent for what the U.S. is willing to endure from violent and despotic regimes.
“The Middle East is a lot like a playground. You have kids in a playground and one kid stands up and throws a stick and makes a line in the sand. He says, ‘If you pass this line, you are in for it.’ Obama did that. The line was passed and he did nothing. In the Middle East,” said Savir, “if you draw a red line and don’t stick to your word, you look weak and defeatable – and that is how Obama came out looking.”
Brodsky said that Obama’s initial drawing of a red line at chemical weapons gave Assad cart Blanche to do what he wanted. Assad had incrementally increased his use of weaponry, testing the U.S. First, said Brodsky, it was rotary-wing helicopter strikes. Then, it was fixed-wing aircrafts. Now that the chemical weapons line has been crossed and ignored, Assad will likely start testing his use of chemical weapons – how much, which kind.
“If the goal of the U.S. is not to be involved,” said Brodsky, “then it should not say anything, should not issue red lines.”
The U.S. action – or lack thereof – in Syria sends a message outside of Syria, too. Brodsky said Iran will have no reason to believe there will be consequences for continuing to enrich uranium and Israel will have no reason to believe the U.S. will act to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Who knows to what extent Israel’s decision to bomb weapons facilities in Syria is a result of Netanyahu’s cabinet gathering and saying, ‘What is the value of America’s security commitment to us over Iran?'” said Brodsky. “If you are the prime minister, you might want to take the opportunity to make sure those in your area realized that your red line is very serious and will not be crossed.”
For now, the world will have to sit and watch. Both Brodsky and Savir said there is no easy solution to the current Syrian conflict, and any end will likely not be a pleasant one. At this point, at best, Israel can continue to monitor Hezbollah and the Iranian weapons heading its way. America could set up a safe-zone, said Brodsky, though this might be viewed as too little, too late.
“Washington has contributed to an outcome that guarantees continues ethnic cleaning. … If Assad goes, either Salafi terrorist organizations aligned with al-Qaeda such as Jabhat al-Nursa will take over, or the newly reconstituted Syrian Muslim Brotherhood will rule and the settling of scores will continue. If Assad remains in power, then Syria will remain an Iranian and Russian puppet with rivers of blood flowing through its hands,” said Brodsky.