The U.S., Israel and Syria

The U.S., Israel and Syria

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

There are a number observations which emerge out of the events that have occurred in Syria over the past several days in Syria. They are important for all the players; those directly engaged, the regional actors, and the international community as well as those in the East or the West. Beyond the more obvious military and security tensions which have been elevated by the attacks in and around Damascus, these are observations which speak to larger questions concerning the future as well as the present.

At this point it seems clear that few people should have the slightest doubt about the closeness of the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially with respect to the sharing and use of intelligence and weapons. Israel, presumably relying on joint intelligence to destroy the Hezbollah bound weapons, executed its mission, it would appear, flawlessly. What was learned for all interested parties to the conflict was that the vaunted Syrian –or Russian—air defense system was not nearly as formidable as had been advertised.  The success of the attack demonstrated the porousness of the Syria’s air defense capability when tested by sophisticated offensive forces. Presumably the U.S. and Israel now can make an larger assessment of whether it was a Syrian, Russian, or Iranian system; who manned it; and what might be its shortcomings.

Second, while the personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu may remain not cuddly but professional and businesslike, the intelligence and defense communities seem to be cooperating almost hand-in-glove. It now seems also to have moved into one of mutual political cooperation. Israel’s attack—beyond effectively destroying Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah—enabled Bibi to deflect some of the harsh criticism that Obama was receiving from his critics in the U.S. for the weakness of his response to the apparent confirmed use of sarin gas. While not removing the decision-making mistake that the President made in drawing “red-lines” nor suggesting that a similar marker he has placed before the Iranian nuclear program will go away, but Israel’s actions enable the U.S. to take credit—in part—for showing a tougher side to addressing Assad.

Israel’s attack on the Damascus research facilities and the missiles apparently housed underground sent a message as well to both Assad and to Iran’s Supreme Leader, that Israel will not rest while the Iranians and the Hezbollah and Syrian allies attempt to solidify an offensive arc poised to attack Israel.  Clear as well was the President’s unequivocal statement following the Israeli attack(s), affirming Israel’s legitimate right to take whatever measures it deems appropriate to protect itself and its people.

Finally, the Israelis also did not appear to hesitate to launch this attack despite the fact that Netanyahu was about to leave for a five day trip to China and a week before Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s forthcoming trip to the U.S.  From Turkey, as well as from the Saudis and Qataris, who have been the major military supporters of the rebels until now– presumably with the U.S.’s blessing –Israel’s actions did not receive a critical comment.

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