Israeli experts may be wrong.
Syria or Hezbollah could attack Israel if the US and other Western forces attack Syria. It would not be the first time analysts predicted that the Arabs would do the opposite of what they declared they would do – and attack Israel.
Such a scenario seems more likely if Syrian President Bashar Assad feels that his regime is going to fall, and decides to lash out in a similar way as fellow Ba’ath party leader Iraqi president Saddam Hussein did during the first Gulf war – firing scud missiles at Israel. Iran, Hezbollah and Syria have been warning over the past few days that a Western attack would trigger a reaction against Israel.
A Syrian attack against Israel would make Assad a hero to many in the Islamic world.
Many analysts speak about Assad’s “rationality,” but it is clear that he does not always think according to the logic of analysts. Was it logical for Syria to use chemical weapons against its own people? The more so knowing that a large scale massacre could pressure US president Barack Obama to enforce his red-line?
According to Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation) and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, “Assad is very rational, but not according to our standards, but to his.”
Kedar told The Jerusalem Post that after two and a half years of Assad butchering his own citizens, he knows he will never again be accepted as a legitimate ruler.
“All he is fighting for is his family’s and his Alawi sect’s survival,” but don’t forget that he has lost many Alawites along the way, said Kedar.
“Since he feels that his time is coming to an end, he sees no importance in people’s lives, and therefore he can gas masses to death,” he said, adding that “he could not care less about any casualties he might cause.” Therefore, “killing Israelis is as easy in his view as killing Syrians or rebels,” he said.
Israeli threats to destroy various targets in Syria, hence, have no meaning for him since “the state is almost totally destroyed anyway.”
“Only an Israeli threat to target the connection between his own head and his own shoulders could deter Assad from attacking”, he said.
Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, believes that a Syrian attack on Israel at this point is unlikely. He told the Post that the Iraqi missile attack against Israel during the first Gulf War failed to unite the Arab world and that an attack by Assad today would fail to help him as well.
After all, he said, Assad failed to respond to an alleged Israeli attack on Syria a few months ago.
“In any case, his ability to harm Israel is limited,” Zisser added.
If he thinks that he can survive an American attack, he is likely to leave Israel alone as Israel retains an effective deterrence.
And the latest reports do indicate that Obama is looking to avoid regime change or any major military action.
Michael Widlanski, an Arab-affairs expert and author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, told the Post in an interview that a US attack would probably be less drastic than the alleged Israeli bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.
“He has nothing to gain from attacking Israel and did not do so in the past,” he said.
Widlanski, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, believes that Assad knows that any attack would result in a severe Israeli retaliation. “People in Israel will expect the army to hit back hard and a serious attack could cost him his regime,” he said.
“He is not a suicide bomber,” he said noting that the history of Assad’s actions and the strategic reality make it clear that he is “not going to do anything.”
Asked about the chances of an attack if Assad knew he was about to fall, Widlanski responded that in a “desperate man scenario,” this could happen, but he does not see the US as interested in trying to bring him down right now as it would require “more than a few cruise missiles.”
He also rules out any Hezbollah action now as the organization is overextended in Syria’s civil war and any attack by the group would ensure a heavy Israeli response.
In terms of Iran, it may want something to happen so it can discover Israel’s operational plans.