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Hichem Karoui: Confusion over a strike
February 03, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Three facts emerge from the accounts related to the Israeli air strike against Syria:

1- Israel attacked more than a target in Syria.

2- Syria recognised that Israel attacked a research centre in Jamarya and denied a raid against a convoy carrying up SA-17 surface-to-air missiles (reportedly destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon). “Warehouses stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons” have been also reportedly hit.

3- Netanyahu received a green light from the USA and may strike again.

For Israel, indeed, there is neither good nor bad timing when it comes to striking the Arabs, any Arabs, even those who, during about 40 years, granted Israel a royal peace. (Although Israel has been technically at war with Syria since 1967, the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since Israel occupied it almost 46 years ago.) One more time again, Israel proved that it would not deviate from this rule.

However, this may be well the first time an Israeli attack could be such a gift for an Arab regime. The dwindling dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad has been utterly relieved by the strike. The Israeli raid served Al Assad:

1- By deviating public attention from the massacres his army was perpetrating against the population to the air strike.

2- By giving the regime another opportunity to overbid and pretend that it has been targeted by a Western-Zionist conspiracy because of its resistance to Israel.

3- By making the internal and major conflict second to the “dangers” of the “international conspiracy.”

To justify this “providential help” to the regime of the dictator, Israel pretended that its objective was to prevent the delivery of weapons to Hezbollah.

Admittedly, this is true. According to Israeli news reports, Hizbollah was storing weapons in Syria since many years. This is a hypothesis the Israelis did not prove, though. If those trucks Israeli airplanes hit were really transporting weapons to Hizbollah, it could as well be Syrian weapons. Hezbollah is just a small party surviving on subsidies and assistance from Iran. It has no means of buying weapons and storing them in Syria. Pretending the contrary is nonsense.

The weapons are Syrian. Their provider could be Iran or Russia, or both.

Why Bashar accepted in these days to deliver them to his Lebanese allies? The Israelis themselves provide the answer to this question. They say: “The Syrian ruler is no longer interested in how the sophisticated weapons owned by Hezbollah and stored in Syria are disposed of. For years they were stored in Syrian military storehouses and kept from crossing the border into Lebanon by Israeli threats.”

 However, it is not because Bashar “is no longer interested” in how those weapons are disposed of that he would assumedly give them up. But well because he KNEW that Israel would strike if he moved into that direction, and that is exactly what he did. Moreover, he probably did it on the advice of his Russian and Iranian allies. All those parties (Damascus regime, Tehran and Moscow) are much in need of a “moral justification” that could dampen the impact of the critics charging them with maintaining alive a body that is clinically dead, and continuing a sadistic war against the population of Syria. What would seem more “decent” than giving ground and substance to the foolish pretension the regime has claimed since the beginning of the protests, that Bashar was facing an “evil conspiracy” fomented by Zionists and Westerners?

The concerns of Washington about the dangers of the Syrian chemical weapons eventually falling into the hands of who knows who, are understood. Yet, in this case, the Obama administration was not very shrewd:

First, why allow Israel to interfere in an internal struggle in such a way so profitable to the regime? If Washington is worried about chemical weapons or any danger, did it really need the Israelis with the risk of slipping down an uncontrollable situation?

Second, if the purpose of Israel was to strike a convoy of weapons destined for Hizbollah, why was it performed in Syria and not in Lebanon? Could they not wait until the trucks cross the borders before striking them? This is all the more “amazing” that according to Lebanese media, a dozen Israeli fighter planes had flown sorties over Lebanon’s airspace from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning. There is therefore an Israeli plan to strike the convoy in Syria, not in Lebanon. Nothing could explain this behaviour more than Israel’s need to make the situation confusing in Syria, so that this intervention and eventually others in the future would set the “red lines” for both the regime and its opponents.

If the Israelis are worried about the consequences of the Assad regime collapse, eventually with another Islamist victory (that would add to Tunisia and Egypt) at their borders, such victory — which is still remote anyway — would be their golden dream if ever Syria imploded and became a safe haven for Al Qaeda and the jihadist networks.

Because of the absence of any real will of the international community to interfere in Syria, expel the criminal regime, and put an end to the plight of the population, Syria is today on the way of becoming a failed state that would implode into several segments of uncontrollable armed militiamen territories. This would be a nightmare for Israel. We all know very well that the Israeli army cannot win an asymmetrical attrition war against the jihadists. The Syrian conflict so badly tackled, so blindly ignored by the West, may well lead Al Qaeda and the jihadist fighters from the entire world for the first time to the frontlines with Israel.

Once again, the Israelis got the US administration entangled in a situation that Obama foreign policy did not need. Once again, Israel’s blind stubbornness would act against any peace settlement, any regional appeasement.

Lastly, would the Damascus regime confirm its threats of retaliations against Israel? This is quite doubtful, without a green light from Moscow. And Moscow is hardly interested in a confrontation with Israel that could seriously jeopardise its last chances to protract the internal conflict and win time.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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