Israel has cautioned the Assad regime in recent months that it will not tolerate
the transfer of “game-changing” weapons to Hezbollah. And if recent foreign
media reports are accurate, the Israel Air Force has now backed up that
Early on Sunday morning, Israeli rockets hit a military research
site on the outskirts of Damascus, according to Syrian news sources. This attack
followed a previous strike early on Friday on a warehouse at the Damascus
airport believed to be under control of operatives from Hezbollah and Iran’s
paramilitary Quds Force, according to foreign media.
In both cases the
target seemed to be a Syrian version of Iran’s Fatah-110 missile, capable of
traveling 300 kilometers with a half-ton warhead.
Uzi Rubin, a missile
expert and former Defense Ministry official, told the Associated Press that
transfer of Fatah-110 missiles to Hezbollah would indeed be a game-changer since
they would be a threat to Israel’s infrastructure and military
Fired from Syria or southern Lebanon, these missiles could
reach almost any place in Israel including Tel Aviv. And the Fatah-110 is about
five times more accurate than Scud missiles that Hezbollah has fired in the
That fact that Israel has been identified as the responsible party
could carry negative ramifications.
The Assad regime is now seeking to
exploit the raids to tie the rebels to “the Zionist entity.” The regime may
succeed in tricking Arabs in the region into believing that Syrian opposition
forces are receiving Israeli support and thus delegitimize the
Already, there are cracks in what was once a broad Arab consensus
against the Assad regime. In Lebanon, Syrian opposition forces are being blamed
for “exporting” the conflict. Meanwhile, Jordan and Turkey are being taxed by
ever increasing numbers of Syrian refugees. And with no sign that the Assad
regime is about to fall, pressure is growing to force an end to the conflict,
even if Bashar Assad remains in power.
Israel may have exposed itself to
a Syrian retaliation.
In what seemed to be an attempt to brace against a
possible Syrian response, the IDF deployed two Iron Dome missile defense
batteries in the north of Israel on Sunday.
Despite all the potential
negative fallout, Israel’s decision to strike under the circumstances was a
calculated risk that was both justified and essential for maintaining deterrence
and security – not just on the Syrian front but also in the ongoing conflict
Bogged down by a civil war, Assad is in no position to launch
an offensive against Israel. Nor is it likely that Assad, after having massacred
80,000 of his own people – a horrifying number of casualties that far exceeds
all of the Arabs killed in all of the wars against Israel – will succeed in
diverting the Syrian opposition’s efforts away from toppling the regime and
against the “Zionist entity.”
Hezbollah, meanwhile, is facing a civil war
in Lebanon and fighting a bloody war in support of Assad in Syria. It also has
no interest in provoking Israel.
Technically, Sunday morning’s attack was
not directed against Syria per se. Rather it targeted a shipment of missiles
earmarked for Hezbollah. Therefore, Damascus has not been forced into a corner
that leaves it no choice but to retaliate to save face. Israel’s refusal to
comment on reports of the air strike is essential for preventing an unnecessary
direct clash with the Syrian regime or with Hezbollah.
Most important of
all, however, is the message that is sent to both Syria and Iran. By standing by
its warnings that it would not tolerate the transfer of gamechanging weapons to
Hezbollah, Israel has made it clear – this time at least – that when it uses the
rhetoric of “unacceptable” and “intolerable” it is not just being “so hectoring
and schoolmarish,” as Foreign Policy’s Rosa Brooks recently put it in an article
titled “Would Machiavelli have drawn a red line?” While statesmen of other
countries seem to make declarations without having any intention of standing
behind their words, Israel will not tolerate Syria’s crossing its red lines. And
that is an important message for the mullahs of the Islamic Republic, too.