Analysis: US military action on Syria could put Israel in firing line

The strength of Israel's deterrence, based on its military prowess, will help decide whether Israel becomes the target of a retribution attack from Syria and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
Signals from the US suggesting a military response to the chemical massacre in Syria are growing louder, and Israel, it is safe to assume, is quietly making preparations to ensure it is ready for any retribution attacks.
If and when Washington, together with its allies, launches a military strike on Syria, the move will not only target the Assad regime.
A US military response will challenge the belligerent axis that stands behind Syria, made up of Iran, which is sending weapons and military advisers to Syria, and Hezbollah, which sent thousands of highly trained, heavily armed fighters to help keep the Assad regime alive.
This axis, also known as the Shi’ite crescent, operates under Russian diplomatic cover, and gets military support from Moscow in the form of extensive sales of sophisticated arms.
Iran, leader of the Shi’ite crescent, views Syria as its critical forward province.
Now, the axis’s members will be thinking about how they should respond to a US military strike.
Syrian officials have, since the outbreak of the civil war, issued threats in an effort to deter US intervention. A common theme running through many of the threats is a warning that any foreign intervention will result in a “fire that will engulf the region.”
These threats have been echoed by Iranian officials.
Israel has been mentioned as a target for retribution, though US allies Jordan and Turkey could just as easily find themselves on the target list.
Efforts to lash out at Israel could include Syrian ballistic missile attacks, rocket attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon or in Syria, or terrorist attacks on overseas Israeli targets by global Hezbollah or Iranian operatives.
Despite the threats, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran all know that any provocation against Israel could backfire badly against them.
The strength of Israel’s deterrence, based on its military prowess, will help determine whether Israel becomes the target of a retribution attack.
The signals sent consistently in recent months and years suggest that it would be wrong to assume that Jerusalem will repeat its actions from the 1991 Gulf War, when Israel did not return fire at Iraq after coming under Scud missile fire.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz have made it abundantly clear that Israel will respond to any attack on its civilians. The resolve was on display last week, when the Israel Air Force bombed a terrorist site south of Beirut, in response to the firing of four rockets at northern Israeli communities.
The air strike was the latest in a series of clear signals designed to demonstrate Israel’s determination to respond to all attacks on it.
Before that, the IDF’s Northern Command responded to gunfire and shelling attacks from Syrian army units by silencing the sources of fire with guided surface-to-surface Tamuz missile strikes.
Not only has Israel beefed up its deterrence with such responses, it has – according to foreign media reports – demonstrated its preemptive capabilities and the resolve to use them.
According to reports, targets of past preemptive strikes ranged from caches of Iranian guided missiles in Damascus to a jihadist terrorist cell in the Sinai Peninsula preparing to fire rockets at Israel.
With the IAF able to strike more targets (near and far) than ever before, and IDF Military Intelligence keeping its many eyes on more enemy activity than ever before, those who consider attacking Israel will surely not do so lightly, if at all.
Any assessment of potential retribution should factor in the possibility that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran might decide to take a calculated risk and launch a limited assault on Israel in response to a US strike, based on a prediction that Israel will refrain from responding with full force.
Such a prediction would be out of tune with Israel’s quiet yet unmistakable warnings.