Showing pinpoint accuracy of its air force, Israel struck a Syrian arms convoy heading from Syria to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Israel fought a bloody war with Hezbollah from July 12, 2006 to Aug. 14, 2006—a virtual standoff, eventually allowing the U.N. to broker an uneventful ceasefire. Hezbollah’s survival was a big victory for the Syrian and Iranian-backed guerrilla group, who’s become a political force in today’s Lebanese politics. Hezboallah’s 42-year-old leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed victory, forcing Israel to retreat back inside its Northern border. While Nasrallah claimed victory with over 500 Hezbollah fighters and 1,300 Lebanese civilians killed, Israel inflicted heavy damage. “The target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from Syria to Lebanon,” said an anonymous Western diplomat, confirming Israel hit dangerous anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets.
Israel’s been known to take preemptive action against Syria. On Sept. 6, 2007, Israel bombed Syria’s under-construction al-Kibar nuclear site. While the Syrian government denied that anything significant was hit, several diplomatic sources confirmed the movement of weapons across the Syrian border. “It attacked trucks carrying sophisticated weapons from the regime to Hezbollah,” confirmed the unnamed source. Syrian state radio confirmed only that the attack was at the Jamraya military site, halfway between Damscus and the Syrian border. Rebel leaders disputed Syria’s official report, confirming the attacks were on convoys at the Syrian border. Syrian authorities don’t want to admit that the Syrian army has been weakened by rebel forces and is nearing collapse. Israel’s attack sends a loud message to Damscus that al-Asad’s days were numbered.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, there’s been no love lost between Israel and Syria. While Israel negotiated the return of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip to Egypt, it has not returned Syria’s strategic Golan Heights. “This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,” said the unnamed source. “Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want these capabilities neutralized by Israel—so the message in this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah,” warning Syria not to mess with Israel’s national security. Israel expressed more concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons’ falling into Hezbollah’s hands. Like Syria, Iran has done everything to reinforce Hezbollah’s military capabilities, essentially fighting a proxy war during Israel’s last incursion into Lebanon.
While there’s uncertainty about the various rebel-groups fighting to topple al-Assad, the U.S. and Israel would like to see regime-change in Syria. Russia and China, both members of the U.N. Security Council, oppose regime-change, preferring to deal with al-Assad over an unknown government. Israel’s preemptive action lets al-Assad know that he can’t get away with reckless military maneuvers. “This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a years,” Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel told a military conference Tuesday. “We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen,” concerned that as al-Assad goes down he’ll unleash every possible demon to retaliate against Israel. Given al-Assad’s history with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers end al-Assad’s rule, taking his chances with a new regime.
Iran said Jan. 27 that any Israeli attack on Syria would be considered an attack on the Persian state. Anticipating possible Hezbollah rocket fire, Israel has already deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to its Northern border to protect cities like Haifa. Netanyahu weighed out carefully the attack against the Syrian arms convoy against possible retaliation by Iran or Syria. With Syria bogged down fighting multiple Sunni guerrilla groups, it’s more likely that Hezbollah would retaliate in any proxy war waged against Israel. Set for a new term Jan. 27, Netanyahu warned all Israelis to be ready for every contingency. Hitting Syria’s weapon’s convoys invites retaliation indirectly from Iran’s Lebanese client: Hezbollah. Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said that any movement of Syrian chemical weapons would trigger immediate Israeli air strikes like the ones today.
Only a few days after reelection, Netanyahu wasted no time launching preemptive strikes against Syria. Israel never acknowledged taking out Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007, keeping al-Assad from retaliating. Yesterday’s attack on a Syrian weapons’ convoy stopped Russian-made anti-missile and tank batteries from falling into Hezbollah’s hands. Obama already put Syria on notice that any movement of chemical weapons would trigger a U.S. response. “The world, led by President Obama, who has said more than once, is taking all possibilities into account,” Shalom told Israeli radio. When Barack’s pick for Defense Secretary former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) gets his crack at confirmation hearings, he’ll be asked specifically about the Pentagon’s red lines on Syria. Without showing unequivocal support of Israel, Hagel face tough sledding in his confirmation hearings.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.