Message to Assad

The target seemed to be a Syrian version of Iran’s Fatah-110 missile, capable of traveling 300 kilometers with a half-ton warhead.

Airstrike in Syria 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Facebook)
Airstrike in Syria 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Facebook)
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 warning.
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 installations.
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 past.
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 rebels.
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 with Iran.
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.