Israel attacks targets in Syria
Not everyone draws their “red lines” in pencil. Over the weekend, Israel conducted two different airstrikes in Syria, including one that hit a military complex close to Damascus. According to a CNN report, there were at least 42 Syrian military casualties, and a hundred people are still missing. Also, an as-yet uncounted number of chickens were killed, as the Wall Street Journal notes that one of the complexes hit by the Israelis included “a fuel depot, cement factory and a poultry farm,” and “dead poultry could be seen amid the rubble.”
These attacks were intended to take out shipments of Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles, described as one of the most accurate weapons in the Iranian arsenal. Somehow these missiles wandered into Syria, and were in the process of wandering into the hands of Hezbollah terrorists. Surely a responsible statesman, such as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, wouldn’t want terrorists to gain control of such weapons! It’s a good thing the Israelis were able to help him out.
Curiously, the embattled Syrian dictatorship does not seem grateful for Israel’s help, as reported by USA Today:
Syria’s government called the attacks a “flagrant violation of international law” that has made the Middle East “more dangerous.” It also claimed the Israeli strikes proved the Jewish state’s links to rebel groups trying to overthrow Assad’s regime.
Syria’s information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, reading a Cabinet statement after an emergency government meeting, said Syria has the right and duty “to defend its people by all available means.”
Israeli defense officials believe Assad has little desire to open a new front with Israel when he is preoccupied with the survival of his regime. More than 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, and Israeli officials believe it is only a matter of time before Assad is toppled.
Still, Israel seemed to be taking the Syrian threats seriously. Israel’s military deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket defense system to the north of the country Sunday. It described the move as part of “ongoing situational assessments.”
The New York Times seems to think Assad wanted to give Hezbollah these dangerous missiles. What a terrible thing to say about the man former Secretary of State Benghazi Rodham Clinton once described as a “reformer.”
Iran has sought to use the threat of a Hezbollah missile attack against Israeli territory as a means of building up its ally and deterring Israel from conducting airstrikes on Iranian nuclear installations that Israeli and American officials believe are part of an Iranian nuclear weaponsprogram.
In Lebanon, some analysts said they believed that a strong Hezbollah could also emerge as a powerful ally for Mr. Assad if he is forced to abandon Damascus, the Syrian capital, and take refuge in a rump Iranian-backed state on the Syrian coast, a region that abuts the Hezbollah-controlled northern Bekaa Valley.
“The relationship between Hezbollah and the Assad regime is stronger now,” said Talal Atrissi, a professor at Lebanese University in Beirut who has good relations with Hezbollah. If Mr. Assad falls, Hezbollah knows the axis of Syria, Hezbollah and Iran will be greatly weakened, he said.
Israel, for its part, has repeatedly cautioned that it will not allow Hezbollah to receive “game changing” weapons that could threaten the Israeli heartland even if a new Syrian government takes power.
The Israelis apparently didn’t bother to advise the Obama Administration before carrying out these airstrikes, which is just as well, because the Administration was busy trying to spin away Obama’s notorious “red line” comments by claiming the President is a boob who says such things off-the-cuff without thinking them all the way through.
Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.
“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”
As a result, the president seems to be moving closer to providing lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months ago. American officials have even discussed with European allies the prospect of airstrikes to take out Syrian air defenses, airplanes and missile delivery systems, if government use of chemical weapons is confirmed.
Which right-wing rag published these blockbuster anonymous leaks, charging that the President blabbered America into either a troublesome loss of prestige, or a war? Why, it was the New York Times.
Enforcing Obama’s red line might prove to be a sticky business, because according to CNN, the United Nations harbors “strong suspicions Syrian rebels used sarin gas” as well. Better to just take the hit to our international prestige and tell the rest of the world what Americans already know: this President says a lot of things that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Israel certainly doesn’t seem willing to gamble its survival on his credibility.