The two aerial strikes on Damascus in the past 48 hours, carried out by the
Israel Air Force according to foreign media reports, are likely the result of
classified intelligence indicating an imminent attempt to transfer strategic
weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.
With Hezbollah deploying up to half of
its fighting force to Syria to help the regime of dictator Bashar Assad fight
for its survival, the Lebanese Shi’ite organization will be seeking “rewards”
for its actions. Hezbollah and its patron Iran may have asked Assad to make the
advanced weapons available.
It would seem that Assad cannot have been in
the dark over the likelihood of such proliferation triggering action to stop it.
Back in January, Israel reportedly sent a very clear message to Syria, Hezbollah
and Iran when an air strike targeted a Hezbollah-bound convoy carrying advanced
surface-to-air missiles toward Lebanon. But that apparently didn’t stop
Hezbollah from trying again this weekend.
Assad is in no position to
decline “requests” for strategic arms from his only regional allies, on whom he
depends for his survival.
The weapons targeted may well have been Iranian
Fatah-110 missiles, which run on solid fuel and have a range of 300 kilometers.
It remains unclear how long those missiles had been stored on Syrian
In any case, Jerusalem seems prepared to take a calculated
risk now, to avoid facing a significantly worse strategic situation
It is prepared to enforce its red lines on weapons proliferation
with Hezbollah, and perhaps also send a message to Iran – which is continuing
with its nuclear program – that Israel’s red lines are set in stone, come what
Although such high-profile air strikes have the potential to
escalate into a wider conflict, allowing Hezbollah to acquire advanced missiles
would make a damaging conflict with it more likely in the future, and hence,
doing nothing is a poor option, the logic behind such strikes
Hezbollah is already heavily armed, with at least 70,000
rockets in its possession, and allowing it to take possession of Iranian
missiles that put all of Israel in range would make a future clash with it that
much more painful for the Israeli home front.
Syria may be in a state of
chaos, but that doesn’t mean Israel has abandoned its red lines.
may be additional big-picture factors at play behind the recent
Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior scholar at the Herzliya-based Institute
for Counter-Terrorism, pointed on Sunday to contingency planning by Iran, the
Syrian regime, and Hezbollah, aimed at creating an Allawite ministate on the
Syrian coast, and linking it to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, as well as with southern
Lebanon – both of which are dominated by Hezbollah, if the Assad regime is
Such an Allawite-Shi’ite entity would be under direct Iranian
patronage, meaning that Iran would create a new base for itself in Syria, Karmon
“The importance of these bombings may be... not only to prevent
Iranian strategic weapons from being transferred, but to prevent this future
entity from being armed and threatening to us,” he said.
Allawite-Shi’ite entity might invite an Iranian task force to defend it
directly, Karmon added.
“In recent weeks, we’re seeing this strategy
being realized. The intense battles of [the Syrian coastal city of] Al-Qussair
resulted in the Syrian Army and Hezbollah almost retaking it. That leaves a
corridor open from Damascus to the Allawite area...
through which Assad
can withdraw, together with his chemical weapons,” Karmon
Similarly, the slaughter of Sunni civilians in the coastal Syrian
city of Baniyas appears to be a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing designed to
pave the way for an Allawite-Shi’ite entity in the area.
Assad has been
able to secure the three major cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, by
retreating from other areas. He has also created a militia made up of “national
committees,” tasked with fighting the rebels alongside the pro-regime and
notorious Shabiha paramilitaries.
But that doesn’t mean he will be able
to save his regime in the long run, fueling the need for preparing a future
Karmon doubted that Syria or Hezbollah would directly respond
to this weekend’s air strikes. With Hezbollah’s fighters deployed in Syria, its
forces will be “exposed to our attacks before the Iranians can help them. If the
Syrians fire their last missiles against us, they endanger air strikes on their
But Iran and Hezbollah could use their overseas
terrorist infrastructure to engineer a vengeance attack, he warned.
on Sunday, the former military secretary to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, published an article saying that Iran was
poised to extend its control of Syria.
Shapira, a senior research
associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted that Hezbollah chief
Hassan Nasrallah paid a rare, secret visit to Tehran last month, where he met
with senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei,
and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem
Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and
“Suleimani’s involvement in the meeting with Nasrallah was
He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in
the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic
controlled, “one way or another,” Iraq and South Lebanon. He now appeared to be
prepared to extend Iran’s control to all of Syria,” Shapira said.
cited a trustworthy source as saying that “Iran has formulated an operational
plan for assisting Syria.
The plan has been named for
Suleimani. It includes three elements: 1. the establishment of a
popular sectarian army made up of Shi’ites and Allawites, to be backed by forces
from Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah and symbolic contingents from the Persian Gulf.
This force will reach 150,000 fighters.
3. The plan will give
preference to importing forces from Iran, Iraq and, only afterwards, other
This regional force will be integrated with the Syrian
Suleimani himself visited Syria in late February-early March to
prepare the implementation of this plan.”
Shapira labeled these
preparations as a “Plan B,” for use in the event of Assad’s fall.
already seems to be looking beyond the regime’s survivability and preparing for
a reality where it will have to operate in Syria even if Assad falls. Even
before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for
years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism,” Shapira said.
Hezbollah is expected to play a central role in this expansionism, he added.