Analysis: Israel and Iran’s game of cat and mouse in Syria

Israeli strikes to stop the transfer of heavy arms to Hezbollah will continue sporadically, and the results will be the same: media blackout, tacit acceptance and efforts by the Iranians to quietly try, try again.

Shell explosion in Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Shell explosion in Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
WASHINGTON – Leaks from government officials in the US and Europe stating that Israel struck a Syrian military facility in Latakia last week indicate Western confidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad will not retaliate.
Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that the country’s red line when it comes to Syria is the transfer of heavy weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is operating extensively on behalf of Assad against rebels fighting for his ouster.
The US has consistently stated support for this policy, under the principle that Israel has a right to defend itself by taking independent action. Classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the US and now the EU condemn its acquisition of such weaponry.
But the revelation that Israel’s targets were Russian-made missiles is a reminder that, despite the deal brokered in September by Moscow to rid Assad of his chemical weapons, the Syrian civil war continues to pose significant strategic tensions for many parties with a vested interest in its outcome.
Last week’s military strike will likely further strain efforts to salvage negotiations in Geneva between Assad and the opposition. Iran still refuses to endorse the 2012 Geneva Communique, a UN document calling for a peaceful transition of power in Syria. It also continues efforts to smuggle anti-aircraft weapons through Syria to Hezbollah-controlled territory in Lebanon.
With Assad coming out of the August chemical weapons crisis intact – and with Washington, Moscow and Tehran generally satisfied with the resulting deal – no one will want to rock the boat with Israel by making an issue out of the fact that it follows through on its promises to defend itself.
These Israeli strikes will continue sporadically, and the results will be the same: a media blackout, tacit international acceptance, and quiet efforts by Iran to try, try again.