U.S. Seems Fine with Israel’s Attacks in Syria

by Dan Raviv in Washington

Although Israel’s military censor wouldn’t let reporters in that country confirm any details, news emerged about Israeli airstrikes inside Syria on Tuesday — bombing targets that included a Syrian military convoy.

Reports filtering out of the region said Israeli jets hit Syrian army trucks suspected of transporting anti-aircraft missiles into Lebanon.   Syria had a choice: complain in public, or say nothing.   In September 2007, President Bashar al-Assad’s government said almost nothing after Israel’s air force destroyed a nuclear reactor the Syrians were building with North Korea’s help.  Israeli officials never confirmed the attack, largely so as not to humiliate Assad and goad him into retaliation.  Syria consistently denied that it was building a nuclear facility.

This week, Syria suddenly announced that Israeli jets struck a military research center close to the capital, Damascus.  Analysts began to think that there had been multiple targets.  That would accord with the notion, “As long as we’re attacking, we might as well hit a few places and take care of more than one problem.”  (The Israeli equivalent of a well known British expression could be, “In for an agora, in for a shekel.”)

Israeli leaders, based on military intelligence assessments that Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into the hands of rebels or be transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon — considered for many months whether to act.

In 2008, Israel had also warned President Assad — who, at the time, was still powerful and was not coping with a civil war — that he should not supply anti-aircraft systems to Hezbollah.  That warning, of course, would have resulted from intelligence that the Syrians were about to do just that.  Iran, of course, would have coordinated such supplies and transfers.

Israeli intelligence — and most political leaders — believe that there will, one day, be another round of war across Israel’s border with Lebanon.  They say that if Hezbollah has advanced anti-aircraft missiles and the accompanying radar installations, that would be a “game changer.”

Israel considered that a “red line,” as some officials put it.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not prepared to wait until the outbreak of all-out hostilities, and he decided to prevent any shipments or truck convoys as and when they are detected.  One can call it an attempt to nip this particular problem in the bud.

It is probably not a coincidence that the airstrike, and the leak of a little information about it as a warning to Syria and others, comes during the process of coalition-building in Israeli politics. Netanyahu is getting the nod from President Shimon Peres — legally, a 28-day window — to form a new government, after the election last week in which Netanyahu lost considerable clout.

Netanyahu seems anxious to demonstrate that he is still Israel’s strongest potential leader on security issues.

As for coordination with the United States, Israeli officials for months have consulted with their U.S. counterparts on the perils of Syrian weapons being moved.  It is not clear whether Israel informed the U.S. before striking the Syrian convoy, but the director of the military intelligence agency known as Aman — General Aviv Kochavi —  is reliably reported to have been in Washington DC a few days before the attack.

It is completely clear that the Obama Administration is not protesting in any way.  That,in this context, signals approval of what Israel has done and might keep doing.

 

February 2, 2013

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