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Israel Strikes Inside Syrian Territory

Yesterday at dawn, Israel conducted an airstrike inside Syrian territory. The IAF struck a military research center at Jamraya, not far from Damascus, as well as a convoy of trucks headed from the Jamraya center toward Lebanon.

The Jamraya center is believed to be a storage facility for chemical weapons. (Syria possesses Sarin, mustard and VX gas.) The truck convoy might have been carrying such weapons to Lebanon (i.e., to Hezbollah), although this is not confirmed and indeed not widely suspected. American and European security sources believe it more likely to have been carrying anti-aircraft missiles or long-range rockets. [UPDATE: AP is reporting that the convoy contained advanced SA-17 antiaircraft missiles. Syria also possesses surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and Yakhont SSN-26 cruise missiles, which have a 300-kilometer range.]

The context for this strike is, of course, the Syrian civil war, which has been grinding on for almost two years at a cost so far of about 60,000 dead. There are several endgames that worry Israel.

  1. Assad, seeing the writing on the wall, decides to use his chemical weapons against us in a go-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory, if-I’m-going-down-I’m-taking-the-Zionists-down-with-me last gasp before oblivion. 

  2. Assad decides instead to bestow the weapons on Hezbollah so that they might keep up the good fight after they pull him out feet first. 
  3. The weapons fall into the hands of the Syrian rebels. This group contains diverse elements, some of which are anti-Israeli (and anti-American). Al-Qaeda are among them.

An unidentified “regional security source” told Haaretz, “This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons. Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want those capabilities neutralized by Israel – so the message is this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah.”

Syria did not report that the attack on the Jamraya center had taken place until the evening — it did not report on the convoy strike at all — and did not fire back at the Israeli warplanes. Hezbollah has not responded either, verbally or in any other fashion, and Israel and the US are also keeping mum (with the exception that the US has confirmed that it was informed by Israel in advance of the strike). Syria’s non-response seems to suggest that, to Assad’s mind, the last thing he needs right now is to bring the full wrath of the Israeli Air Force down on his head. Hezbollah’s silence could indicate that it doesn’t much like its own chances in a fight with Israel when Assad is no longer in a position to provide full backing.

No one has much to say about this incident except the Russian Foreign Ministry, which said: ”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.”  In other words: lest anyone be emboldened by the Israeli attack into a coordinated military strike to topple Assad, don’t forget that Moscow has Assad’s back. 

  1. Israel P.

    Well, this guy has the answer in the first line.

  2. Dave L

    Thanks Judith. It is always helpful to hear the news from the perspective of your part of the world.

  3. iWc

    Much appreciated analysis, thanks!

  4. Devereaux

    It is hard to know what to say to the issues in Israel. I wish the IDF long life and good hunting.

    I have long felt the whole policy towards Israel and surrounding has been poor. My sense is that wars need to have meaning if the dead are not to have died in vain. The Jordan seems to be a reasonable border, and Israel seems to have won that in righteous wars – at least to me. Continuing to support some other fiction only exhorts the opposition to disregard the risks of going to war, which ought to be formidable to any.

  5. cdor

    How great to be able to log on to Ricochet and get first class straight forward news analysis not available elsewhere on an area of the world that is important to me. Thank you Judith.

  6. Crow

    Eminently sensible and long expected action by Israel (and predictable Russian faux-outrage….not as though the Kremlin wasn’t trying to open a naval base on Cyprus not so long ago as insurance).

  7. Scott R

    Cynically speaking, and gruesome as it may be, is a permanently unresolved civil war in Syria the best state of affairs for Israel’s security?

    A pro-Western post-Assad gov’t in Syria is obviously the best outcome, but if we accept that such an outcome is near impossible, then permanent instability and worry within the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah chain is the least-bad circumstance. No?

  8. Spin

    You can just about write the script for the Russians, can’t you?  I don’t doubt American liberals will be saying the same thing by the end of the day.  

  9. ctlaw

    A variation on Scenario 1, is that Assad seeks to create a messy war between Israel and Hezbollah, not to go out in a blaze of glory, but to draw some heat away from himself by uniting  the Jihadis against Israel.

    If, tomorrow, a rocket from Lebanon hits Tel Aviv with VX, what happens?

  10. iWc

    Unending civil war in Syria beats unending war with its neighbors.

    If the alternative is a bad state, I’d rather have no state at all.

  11. Roberto
    Judith Levy, Ed. In other words: lest anyone be emboldened by the Israeli attack into a coordinated military strike to topple Assad, don’t forget that Moscow has Assad’s back.  · · 6 hours ago

    Iran as well:

    In Iran, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Thursday as saying the raid on Syria will have significant implications for the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

    That is certainly a rather blatant threat. I wonder if Hamas has already received their marching orders from their masters in Tehran.

  12. Group Captain Mandrake

    When Israel bombed Syria’s fledgling nuclear reactor (if that’s what it was) there was a similar non-reaction from the Syrian government.  Their silence was as good as an admission that they’d been caught with red-handed.  I view the more recent silence as a similar confirmation.

  13. flownover

    As the Senate approves long-time Syrian suckup John Kerry and starts to consider long-time Israeli nemesis Chuck Hagel . 

    Good timing for sure. Target choice could use some diversification.

    We can only hope for missiles there and hardballs here.

  14. David Williamson

    I’m sure Mr Kerry will sort things out.

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