Israel Strikes Syria: First Act of «Endgame»? By Dmitry MININ
6 February 2013 — Strategic Culture Foundation
Speaking at the defense chiefs meeting in Munich, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak finally confirmed what the news agency had been raising ballyhoo about for the previous few days: the Israeli Air Force had launched a military operation against the legitimate government of Syria. It gave rise to speculations about a large-scale military intervention to start pretty soon. Barak acknowledged the fact in his usual ambiguous manner leaving a lot of ground for different interpretations… He said», «I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago», Barak told the gathering of top diplomats and defense officials from around the world. Then he went on to say, «I keep telling frankly that we said — and that’s proof when we said something we mean it — we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon». (1) This kind of statement is a good example to illustrate what king of campaign is launched against Damascus. Besides immediate military strikes, information war methods are used intensively highlighting the events with a great deal of ambiguity, turbid insinuations and even outright doctoring. The mission is to demoralize the enemy, break his will power to resist and make Syria destitute of whatever international support it might have enjoyed until now.
According to initial reports, the Israeli Air Force delivered air strikes on January 30 at night, the target was a defense chemical facility situated in the vicinity of Damascus. The interpretation was rapidly picked up by Syrian opposition. It made easier to explain why the historic enemy was on its side. It is still sticking to the version of events. The rest of the world was told a different story – four air groups, each three aircraft strong, flew at low altitude across the mountain of Hermon and hit a joint Syria, Hezbollah and Iran logistics center where «high technology weapons» were stored, including modern surface-to-air missiles. Allegedly a convoy of trucks on the way to the Lebanese border was also damaged but soon this version faded away being unconfirmed.
Damascus said Israel attacked a defense research center. As a result the building was destroyed, two staff members died, five staffers wounded. On January 31 the governments of Syria and Iran made statements and said they reserved their right to retaliate. Until now Syria has not responded, probably it doesn’t want to involve new actors into the fray. Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali threatened retribution for the Israeli airstrike saying Damascus «has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation». He didn’t make precise what exactly was meant.
Meanwhile the military activities in the vicinity of the Israeli border with Syria and Lebanon have intensified going far beyond the scope of limited actions. Perhaps it’s the first act of the expected «endgame». In London they remember that the day before the attack Israeli Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel had warned that Syria is falling apart and no one knows what the next day may bring: «War may not break out tomorrow», he said, «but we stand ready for any eventuality».
Early on February 3 Lebanese media reported the Israeli aircraft honed their skills in different parts of southern Lebanon. They flew over the cities of Nabatia, Al-Hiam and other urban areas at low altitude as part of combat training missions. Neither Lebanese Armed Forces, nor Hezbollah responded. (2) Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour called for international boycott of Israel. He said that last week’s airstrike in Syria «is aggression against Lebanon». He further added, «Israel deserves harsh responses and a tough boycott on the economic, political and diplomatic levels». Speaking before travelling to Cairo to attend a conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Mansour said, «Israeli jets continue to invade Lebanon‘s airspace every day. We must stand up against the Israeli attacks but not just with calls, statements and condemnation».
It has become known the Israeli Armed Forces are in the state of full combat alert since January 25. Three Iron Dome missile defense batteries have been deployed in the north of Israel. According to al-Manar TV channel (Hezbollah), an Israeli unit took to pieces the barbed wire near the village of Yarun. The unit consisted of twenty soldiers and some armored vehicles. They didn’t actually cross the border but came real close. In Israel many started to talk about urgent need to create a 16-km deep buffer zone between Israel and Syria and move two divisions and a battalion to the Golan Heights. According to experts, in the case of large-scale intervention against Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah would be the main targets for Israel. No doubt Hezbollah knows it well and is undertaking preparatory measures. The Lebanese armed forces are in the state of full alert. Allegedly the military will not confront the Israelis (it didn’t during the last conflict on its territory), but neither will it stand in the way of Hezbollah.
In case a conflict flares, the 60 thousand rockets that Hezbollah smuggled into Lebanon (three times more than in 2006) would be a real headache for Israel. Arms coming from Syria in case it falls apart is a matter of special concern, especially Russia-produced SA-15, SA-17 capable of hitting low altitude targets. Yiftah Shafir of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University told Ynet, «In 2006 we saw that Hezbollah was an army like any other, with strong and weak spots. It does not have tanks, for instance, and it is doubtful it will want Syrian tanks. I suppose it still wants Syria to supply it with rockets and anti-aircraft missiles. Downing an Israeli plane with the SA-17 anti-aircraft missile system would be a victory for Hezbollah‘s propaganda, but this system is very difficult to operate. I assume they will prefer smaller anti-aircraft systems – such as the SA-8. These missiles can be loaded onto a truck and are fairly easy to operate». Israel fears that some of these weapons will end up not only in Hezbollah‘s hands, but in the hands of Global Jihad elements linked to al-Qaeda. (3) As in the time of war, sabre rattling goes along with information attacks, including the ones orchestrated at the top. For example, Israeli media spread around information the government got green light for attack against Syria from Washington and Moscow. Debkafile, Israeli open-source, military intelligence outlet reported that the operation went forward with a green light from President Obama after he was briefed on the plan by AMAN (Israeli Military Intelligence) commander, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at the White House on Jan. 22.The sources also reported that another Israeli emissary, National Security Adviser Yakov Amidror visited Moscow at the same time to warn Russian leaders of the coming attack. While Russian officials voiced objections to Israeli attacking Syria, they also apparently omitted to forewarn President Assad of what was coming and he was taken by surprise. After the raid, President Vladimir Putin advised the Syrian ruler to refrain from exacerbating the military situation with Israel. (4) According to other sources, DEBKA included, the Israelis sang in Moscow the very same tune about their intent to prevent chemical weapons getting into the hands of Hezbollah without giving any details. (5) It’s clear that the juggling with facts and information is aimed at legitimization of Israeli actions by getting alleged approval from great powers. In the case of Russia, the goal is to undermine its credibility in the Arab world, including in Damascus. This abuse of confidentiality (it’s hard to believe the Israeli state officials have no relation to what DEBKA writes) has not gone unnoticed by Moscow. It’s not an occasion that the air raid was condemned by Moscow in no uncertain terms, «Russia says it is very concerned about reports of an Israeli air attack inside Syria near Damascus and any such action would amount to unacceptable military interference. If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it», the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 31.Turkey;’s response was rather peculiar. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu criticized the Israeli raid in Syria, severely questioning Damascus’ inaction on the aggression». «Why didn’t [Bashar] al-Assad even throw a pebble when Israeli jets were flying over his palace and playing with the dignity of his country?» Davuto?lu told reporters on his way to Serbian capital Belgrade for a bilateral visit, daily H?rriyet has reported. «Why didn’t the Syrian Army, which has been attacking its own innocent people for 22 months now from the air with jets and by land with tanks and artillery fire, respond to Israel’s operation? Why can’t al-Assad, who gave order to fire SCUD missiles at Aleppo, do anything against Israel?» Davuto?lu asked. He said they did not know the precise circumstances of the raid but added that Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.(6)After that the Israelis had a reason to believe a war between Israel and Syria would be the best option for Turkish military. Turkey would stay aside and still have a chance to play the role of «peacekeepers and liberators from age-old enemy».
The fact that Netanyahu may plunge the country into the fray is becoming a matter of growing concern for Israeli people. According to right wing Maariv newspaper, top officials of Israeli Foreign Ministry say there have been no strategic changes in Syria recently and there is no reason for panic or loud statements being made. There has been status-quo there and the probability of weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of terrorists remains the same. Maariv writes Netanyahu instigates tension trying to form as broad a national coalition government as he could. The easiest thing here is to call on the parties to be responsible and form the government Netanyahu wants in the conditions of fear and security threat. (7)
Many in Israel say the actions do not meet the interest of the Israel state. Local analysts write Israel is not interested in the Assad’s fall, but willy-nilly it weakens it showing the world Syrian air defense is vulnerable. This way it can expedite a foreign intervention in Syria and the nightmare of non-conventional arms getting into wrong hands would become real earlier than expected. (8)