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Back to Syria

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The apparent—officially denied– Israeli raid into Syria in Jamraya outside of Damascus on Tuesday/Wednesday occurred coincidentally with the arrival of the latest edition of Commentary which will be available on-line beginning February 1.  In this edition, there is insiders report by Elliott Abrams on the events that occurred the last time Israel made a similar raid—in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear reactor construction project at al-Kibar.  While much of Abrams’ recounting was already out, some of his additions were interesting and curious, especially concerning some of the interpersonal dynamics which only someone in the room would have seen. What is most important, however, is the insight that the piece brings to the thinking and behavior of the Israel military which—based on yesterday’s events– remains consistent as well as effective.

Israel cannot and will not permit weapons or weapons systems to be placed in areas where they could present existential threats to Israel.

Israel’s repeated interdiction of ships carrying sophisticated weapons bound for Gaza, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas; Israel’s attack on the al-Kibar site, and now the attack on the weapons convoy apparently bound from Syria to Lebanon (read Hezbollah) corroborates this theory.

Israel will not tolerate any WMD's to become operational or approach being sited in locations which, if they became operational, would threaten Israel’s security. (Thus, any effort by Hezbollah, Iran, or Hamas to obtain Syrian chemical weapons and move them into Lebanon—or Gaza—will not be tolerated under any scenario.)

Israel will act alone with or without U.S. blessings, although it clearly prefers at least tacit acquiescence. 

Israel understands the dangers of possible retaliatory responses for such actions but accepts the possible risks as the challenges of living in the region.

Israel recognizes that it needs the U.S. support for shared military intelligence purposes, military equipment needs, and diplomatic cover; but as with the 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor, the 2007 attack on al-Kibar (see Abrams), and the attack yesterday, it will act even if such actions may not have unqualified U.S. support.

Israel may have been crying wolf about Iran for too many years and especially the Netanyahu Government may have been pushing the envelope too hard and too fast, but the implications of yesterday’s latest attack is that the Israelis will go into Iran, even if the odds of retaliation are much higher than they are or were from Syria. While the probability of a response from Assad was close to nil, the signals and implications to the region are significant.

Perhaps, more important will also be the extent to which this escapade will define one of the major topics for the next meeting between Bibi and Obama (which might occur during the AIPAC policy conference at the beginning of March).  It will also signal Chuck Hagel and John Kerry that they need to make sure that the horror, the tragedy, and the ugliness occurring in Syria and Egypt not distract them totally from the looming Iran confrontation. In fact, it is precisely the same debate—or equivocating–that Abrams reports occurred in the Bush Administration over how to address the el-Kibar reactor which is undoubtedly continuing at State, in the Pentagon, and at the NSC.

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