Strikes on Syria Signal an Emboldened Israel

As Syria's civil war rages on, Israel worries about the consequences of chaos and bets that Bashar Assad's forces are stretched too thin to retaliate

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Ugarit News / AP

In this image taken from video obtained from Syrian opposition news outlet Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke and fire fill the skyline over Damascus on May 5, 2013, after an Israeli air strike

After two air strikes inside Syria in the space of three days, Israel remains intent on targeting advanced weapons there before they can be transferred to Hizballah in Lebanon, Israeli military officials tell TIME. “It’s not over,” says one senior officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Israel has not officially acknowledged either of the strikes. “This is not the last incident.”

The savage civil war inside Syria has both emboldened Israel to act against existing threats and created new ones. Officials are concerned that as the Syrian state devolves into chaos, sophisticated weapons not previously available to Hizballah will make their way across the border to Lebanon, altering the military equation between Israel and the well-armed Shi‘ite militia sponsored by Iran and aided by the Syrian government.

One such weapon is the Fateh-110 missile, which Israel targeted in warehouses at Damascus International Airport on Thursday night and at the sprawling military compound in the Jamraya district outside the capital on Sunday night. Made by Iran, the Fateh, which means conqueror in Persian, has a range of 300 km (190 miles), easily enough to reach Israel’s major population centers from Lebanon. More worrisome, according to Israeli officials, is that the Fateh is highly accurate — able to deliver 600 kg (1,300 lb.) of high explosives within accuracy of 200 m (650 ft.), close enough to endanger strategic targets such as power plants, or the Defense Ministry headquarters in central Tel Aviv. (By contrast almost all of the other estimated 40,000 missiles already in Hizballah’s control are unguided.) Secondary explosions visible in videos posted online from Syria indicated the weekend air strikes struck munitions stockpiles.

(PHOTOS: Chaos and Killing in Syria: Photos of a Slow-Motion Civil War)

Israeli pilots also targeted warehouses suspected of containing Yakhont shore-to-sea cruise missiles. Made by Russia, the supersonic missiles also known as P-800 Oniks travel at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, and would endanger Israeli warships, as well the country’s offshore natural-gas platforms located near Lebanon. Israeli officials worry about the consequences of either weapon reaching Hizballah or falling into the hands of extremist Islamists fighting to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, which include militant groups formally aligned with al-Qaeda.

“We prefer they burn,” the Israeli military official tells TIME. “That way nobody will be able to use them.”

In the past, Israel felt constrained from launching overt military strikes on Syria for fear of provoking retaliation. When Israel sent F-16s to destroy a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert in 2007, it took pains to keep the operation secret — it took a week for the first reports to filter out — for fear of forcing Assad to respond in order to save face, according to reporting by David Makovsky in the New Yorker.

But a civil war that has gone on for more than two years has changed Israel’s calculus. Israeli officials are betting that Assad will not retaliate, both because his forces have their hands full already and because any strike against Israel would risk Israeli counterstrikes that might seriously degrade his advantages in the civil war, like airpower. “They don’t want to open a new front that might be the last one they open,” says one Israeli military official. “They would suffer a knockout punch.” One measure of Israel’s confidence was the whereabouts of its Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu left on Sunday for a long-scheduled state visit to Beijing.

Still, in the wake of the strikes, Israeli forces went on heightened alert. A TIME correspondent hiking on Mount Meron in the Golan Heights heard the wail of sirens sounding several times Saturday morning on a forward Israel Defense Forces air base. Military sources said the sirens summoned all personnel to action stations, apparently in readiness for any military reprisal from the Syrian side.

(MOREThe Thick Red Line: White House Cautious on Chemical Weapons Use in Syria)

“The question everybody is asking today is, ‘Is there going to be a war?’’’ says Benedetta Berti, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank associated with Tel Aviv University and heavily staffed with former Israeli security officials. Berti said she heard the same question after Israeli jets struck inside Syria in late January, destroying a convoy carrying advanced SA-17 antiaircraft missiles toward Lebanon, damaging a chemical-and-biological-weapons research center and killing a senior Hizballah commander, intelligence sources tell TIME.

“At the end of January my answer was no, and that’s my answer this time, but it’s a lot less confident,” says Berti. “The Israelis are very clear that they don’t want to get involved [in the civil war] and this is very low cost. Assad is busy. But if you push it too much, eventually some sort of reaction will have to come.”

Israeli military officials say they will likely keep launching attacks, partly because Iran has stepped up the pace at which it’s arming Syria and Hizballah. “They’ve increased the number of shipments lately,” one says. But the strikes are also driven by Israel’s determination to act when it has actionable intelligence. “The problem is intelligence doesn’t always arrive smoothly and on time,” says one military official. The official says “some” earlier-generation Fateh-110s reached Hizballah in the past, before Israel could act.

“It’s always a balance: What’s the cost?” says Berti. “Assad was always risk-averse.” But when there were credible reports that Scud missiles had traveled from Syria to Hizballah — and even rumors of chemical weapons, Berti says — Israel took no overt action.

“I think what’s changed today is there’s really this perception that central control is breaking down [inside Syria],” says Berti. In other words, concerned parties still know where to look for the weapons that worry them most. That could change if Assad’s forces are overrun, or simply give up their positions. “Then we’ll have to worry that there is no address,” says Berti.

MORE: The Gaza Crisis and Egypt: Can Cairo Manage a Complex Relationship?

24 comments
IrfanAlam
IrfanAlam

By just airpower alone Israel can never take out the Yakhonts or the S 300's, sustained use of airpower will make its position more untenable, since it could be seen as a one sided provocation. Given the fact the fact that Russia has conveyed its displeasure, to the extent of an intervention, it is clear, that Assad, isn't certainly going to end up like another Gaddafi. The rebels if frustrated could wreak havoc with their patrons, in other words, the real candidates for 'Arab Springs', will have more than their hands full!, these so called rebels, are most likely to un-muzzle themselves on their Arab patrons in times to come.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Joel 3:2........

I will gather all the nations, and I will bring them to the Jehoshaphat Valley. There I will enter into judgment with them in support of my people and my possession, Israel, which they have scattered among the nations. They have divided my land......

sridhar.sid
sridhar.sid

Israel is enboldened because it has an opportunity to straighten two matters. First, take on Hizbollah, which is seriously weakened, minus support from Syria and second, side with Saudi Arabia/Turkey to show that Israel supports the Sunnis over Shias. This will take the pressure off them with the hardline Sunni regimes, who have consistently vilified Israel. The only fear is that these Sunni regimes are themselves very vulnerable and hence, with their fall, Israel will be impacted. Secondly, with these bombings, Israel will be drawn into a larger shia/sunni war that will take years of attrition because the Jihadis on both sides will tight unto death

DrorBenAmi
DrorBenAmi

hey karl,

 al jazzaera has done a 4 part series on "the seven sisters" and it implies that the united states, britian, france and holland are responsible for the deaths of close to 20 million people in the last 40 years....in the entire series they only mentioned israel once: in relation to the suez canal in 1956. 

I thought that the palestinian problem and zionism was the cause of all the world's problems; yet al jazerra puts the blame solely on the seven sisters.

i am confused karl, do the jews own the seven sisters ???


nlkatz
nlkatz

The US, Canada and Europe drew a RED LINE regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which is prohibited by international law.


The RED LINE was crossed by Syria, as evidenced by the civilians dead and injured, but few posted to condemn the loss of civilians

Israel, the US, Canada and Europe's ally in the region, acted. This, the destruction of chemical and strategic weapon cashes by the Jews is what causes so much hysteria.

What should a Jew like me think of this hypocrisy...??

RydMizar
RydMizar

how does a pedophile kaballah solomon masonic temple wkl1 gene new world order earth born nephilim predator race get emboldened?, oh yeah, like the kids it exploits in its evil pedo kaballah masonic temple rituals, it preys on weaker or weakened people.

mrxexon
mrxexon

What is signals is a monster that we in the US have breast fed to our own demise.

thinkfromabove
thinkfromabove

The israel of the bible stands in symbolism for IS REAL, the realization of the higher states of hairless, godlike Jacob (error-free new wine) vs carnal and mere symbolic Esau, whom God hates.

This aggressive & ignorant country has no similarity to the Torah it studied daily for 6,000 years, as it is still making a Don Quixote in fighting the enemy on the "outside", instead of overcoming death via elimination of ignorance (Apostasy, complete absence of timeless 4th-layer wisdom - lit white field, error-free realm).

It has become very obvious that God has taken all privileges that come with wisdom and understanding away from them and completely blinded them to his intent for his potential sons.

MattyGroves
MattyGroves

@CrossWinds Groves 25:30

Verily I say unto you the children of Abraham shall never know peace until they share the land as brothers and sisters and forsake the bitterness of Esau and Jacob.

jwarrencollins
jwarrencollins

@nlkatz A Jew like you should consider that chemical weapons may have been deployed by the rebels to draw you into a war you cannot influence, you cannot win, and you cannot profit by. Best to get all the facts before you go off shooting anything...especially your mouth. 

GaryJacobs
GaryJacobs

@RydMizar how does a childish Jew hater that has likely never been to Israel, doesnt know a thing about kaballah or how few Jews follow it, or what it takes to defend Israel spew bigoted Jew hate??  See: RydMizar

Just curious, did you think Israel was preying on weaker people when 7 Arab armies attacked Israel upon her declaration of independence??  3 years after 6million Jews were massacred in Europe with the help of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini, and the support of just about every Arab govt, Vichy, Ba'aath, etc...??? Grow up and get your learn on...

GaryJacobs
GaryJacobs

@mrxexon  what a childish and unpersuasive ignorant thing to say... in reality, the US and Israel partnership has created many advances in science, medicine and technology you likely dont even know you benefit from... like the computer your typing on that likely has numerous components made in Israel... like Intel's dual/multi core tech, not to mention numerous web applications...etc...  and never mind the 7th peeps in the muslim world... no we have done real well as friends with the Saudi's, right??  Grow up and get your learn on....

mrxexon
mrxexon

@thinkfromabove 

The Torah has not been around for 6000 years. Neither have Jews.

 I've seen this kind of disjointed posting before. I suspect you know what kind of mental illness I'm talking about. Religious symbolism is common with it.

GaryJacobs
GaryJacobs

@MattyGroves @nlkatz  

Matt, i see your avatar/profile pic, and my reply is...'Palestine' is free... its called Israel... free from 1400 years of Islamic Imperialism. Try going to Israel and you will find that the only continuous stream of archeological artifacts found are from Jews.  If these arabs called themselves 'Palestinians' want a state, they could have had it several times over already, they simply want to end Israel, murder Jews, and subjugate the rest to Dhimmi status of 'Infidels' under Islam... NO Thanks... not your infidels anymore... grow up and get your learn on...

mrxexon
mrxexon

@GaryJacobs

Yes we have. We gave immunity to all the nazi scientists and brought them to the US to work for us. And since Israel is a product of zionist collaboration with those same nazis, it was likely that these two logs floating down the river of time would bump together again someday. Each a couple of generations wiser but no less dangerous to the world. In fact, because of their aqquired wisdom, they're even more dangerous than before.

Beware of any nation that uses scapegoats to advance it's cause.


x

thinkfromabove
thinkfromabove

@mrxexon @thinkfromabove 

The Torah's content, the law and the prophets, has been passed on ad verbatim from rabbis to students, down though all generations and written on scrolls following that. 

Where do you see the term "jews" in my post ?! It takes disjointed one to look for one in another...

And, no, neither are these symbols "religious", nor ill-conceived. You'd know that, if you had any insight in advanced 4th-layer symbolism.

MattyGroves
MattyGroves

@GaryJacobs@MattyGroves@nlkatz

"going to Israel and you will find that the only continuous stream of archeological artifacts found are from Jews"

Well that is totally untrue. The ancient region of Palestine is rich in archaeological artefacts and structures spanning well over 5,000 years from a wide range of ethnic, nation and religious groups (Byzantine, Roman, Late Hellenistic, Egyptian, Canaanite to name but a few).

To claim that ' that the *only* continuous stream of archaeological artefacts found are from Jews' is just plain rubbish particularly in light of that fact that most archaeologists now agreed that most biblical references (tomb of the Patriarch, Solomon’s palace, the first temple at Jerusalem, etc) cannot be proven archaeologically.

In fact it is now widely agreed, even among Israeli archaeologists, that most of the stories in the Jewish bible are fiction (exodus from Egypt, conquest of Canaan).

In short Syro-Palestinian archaeology has shown that the ancient region of Palestine has been the home of many cultures and peoples including the Jewish People even if such archaeological evidence for Jewish People is extremely scant compared to other cultures.

This is obviously the case as the ancient Hebrew/Jewish culture was only established in the region for a small period of time, see: http://www.mapsofwar.com/images/EMPIRE17.swf

MattyGroves
MattyGroves

@GaryJacobs@mrxexon

"As for Israel supposedly being a collaboration of Zionists and Nazis... thats about the stupidest thing anyone could possibly say...and totally disproven by historical reality..." GaryJacobs claiming that Zionist collaboration with the Nazis was utter untrue.

After been shown proof that this indeed was the case and is a historical fact GaryJacobs uses the usual weasel tactics:

False slander: "So clearly you would rather all the Jews die than have them rescued??"

Begrudging acknowledgement that he was indeed very much mistaken when he claimed, out of ignorance, that that Zionist collaboration with the Nazis was utter untrue: "Your own video goes on and on about how the 'Zionists agonized over the decision'  ...the idea that Jews trying to rescue other Jews...rather than face extermination is somehow "collaboration"".

Note the attempt to rationalize and justify the collaboration, 'yes they did but it was for a greater good'.

Basically we are seeing the three most common types of denial:

1) It didn't happen - "totally disproven by historical reality"

2) It wasn't harmful - 'it was for a greater good'

and possibly if I understand his thoughtology correctly...

3) It rarely happens - "the type of mental problem the world doesnt need anymore"

Lastly he used the well worn tactic of deflection, rather than dwell in such Zionist collaboration with the Nazis he repeats himself and tried to divert attention back to Haj Amin Al Husseini, this is because he finds it easier to discuss this aspect rather than the matter of Zionist collaboration with the Nazis which he is ignorant about and uncomfortable talking about.

GaryJacobs
GaryJacobs

@mrxexon @GaryJacobs  

So clearly you would rather all the Jews die than have them rescued??  Your own video goes on and on about how the 'Zionists agonized over the decision'  ...the idea that Jews trying to rescue other Jews...rather than face extermination is somehow "collaboration"... is just the type of mental problem the world doesnt need anymore... And anyway, clearly Hitler, with a little help from his Arab/Muslim friends like Haj Amin Al Husseini preferred extermination... as I mentioned Haj specifically lobbied the Nazis to NOT let any Jews escape death...especially to Israel...

GaryJacobs
GaryJacobs

@mrxexon@GaryJacobsmrxexon... '
yes we have' what??  your intro in the above post makes zero sense... but that doesnt surprise me as you lack of intellect is on display.  About the only correct thing you have said so far is on the US giving immunity to Nazis, and its hard for me to reconcile that with my love for the USA... but that is not the same as espousing the same ideology as Hitler, like Haj Amin Al Husseini, and most other Islamic Radicals... see Pact of Omar, Sharia L:aw, Dhimmi Status of infidel, Jiyza... next to the Nuremberg laws and note the similarities...

As for Israel supposedly being a collaboration of Zionists and Nazis... thats about the stupidest thing anyone could possibly say...and totally disproven by historical reality... especially since Haj Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and Hitlers right hand for muslim affairs, was known to make sure as many Jews as possible died in the death camps, and NOT escape to Israel... see Stanford University's Hoover Institute for the definitive study on the Nazi archives related to the Mufti:
http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/5696

did I mention you should grow up and get your learn on??