assad cool 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A thick, black shroud covers what exactly took place in the skies somewhere over northern Syria late Wednesday night, and Israel is doing nothing to shed any light on the situation.
The IDF's vague and laconic response, that it is "not accustomed to responding to such reports," has just fueled speculation over what exactly Israeli planes were doing in the area, if indeed - as the Syrians claim - they were in the area at all.
The possibilities are endless. The planes could have been on a reconnaissance mission to see what Iranian and Russian arms are pouring into Syrian ports. They could have been probing Syria's new air defense system. No one knows, and no one will know, because Israel is not volunteering any information at all.
While from an operational standpoint, and from the standpoint of not wanting to reveal any intelligence information, this silence is understandable, it does leave the public-diplomacy field wide open to the Syrians. And Damascus is milking the event for all it is worth, using it to fly the flag of Arab solidarity and as a way to bring Damascus into the Arab consensus.
Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said that the incident showed that "Israel in fact does not want peace. It cannot survive without aggression, treachery and military messages."
The Syrian military spokesman went a step farther and warned "the Israeli enemy government against this flagrant aggressive act," saying Syria would "retain the right to respond in an appropriate way."
For the Syrians, standing very much on the outside of the fledgling diplomatic process and unlikely to be invited to the US-sponsored international meeting on the Middle East later this year, this incident - given extensive air time in the Arab media - proves what they have said all along: "Israel can't be trusted."
Its threat to "respond in an appropriate manner" gives it points in its escalating feud with Saudi Arabia over the situation in Lebanon - showing that it, and only it, can stand up to the Israelis.
Furthermore, at a time when the world is largely keeping Syria at arm's length, it is now presenting itself as a peace-loving country whose tranquility was shattered by those war-mongering Israelis. With many eyes currently on Syria because it is believed to be the major hub for the supply of weapons to both Lebanon and Iraq, this type of incident will allow Damascus to shift the attention elsewhere.
And Israel, by keeping completely silent - although it is widely believed that Jerusalem sent calming messages to Damascus through other channels - is trying to avoid playing into Damascus's hands. Syria wants to raise an international outcry; it wants to generate a lot of media noise. By not confirming anything, Israel is doing what it can to try and limit the media clamor as much as possible.
If Israel would admit to any type of aerial activity over Syria by publicly saying it did not intend to trigger a wider conflagration with Damascus, it would open up a Pandora's Box that would be followed by steps such as a Syrian appeal to the UN Security Council for a condemnation of Israel. This type of admission would also reopen the question of Israeli aerial activity over Lebanon, something Israel by no means wants to underline.
To keep all this from happening, Jerusalem is keeping uncharacteristically mum, letting the Syrians enjoy a media festival today in the hopes that international interest will fade if only one hand is clapping.