Last week newspapers reported that Israel attacked Syria. It is true that Israeli planes attacked a Syrian convoy carrying antiaircraft weapons. However this does not mean that the attack targeted Syria.
The main target of the raid seems to be SA-17 missiles that were about to be transferred by Syria to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. Syria’s main research center on biological and chemical weapons, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also suffered damage where the weapons were stationed. However the reactions of the actors in question, namely Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah, made the picture more than murky. Israel issued no statement and took no responsibility for the strike. Only former Defense Minister Ehud Barak came close to conceding involvement when speaking at the Munich Security Conference. Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on the other hand, kept calm and has been slammed for not responding to the air strike. Even more surprisingly, Hezbollah said they were not the target. Iran, seemingly having nothing to do with the incident, is the only country that did not surprise us. Tehran reacted immediately, saying the bombing may lead to serious consequences for Israel.
Favor to Assad
It all makes sense with pure deductive reasoning. The raid served as a great favor to the al-Assad regime. From the very outset of the domestic uprisings the Syrian regime has depicted them as a conspiracy hatched by external enemies. Hence the attack provided al-Assad with proof to “justify” his position and also with a second opportunity to activate Arab nationalism and gain the support of the Muslim world. It also greatly damaged the Syrian opposition, which had just declared they were open to dialogue with al-Assad. This strengthens the very well-known assumption of Israel: There will be no stability in Israel if there is no stability in Syria, where stability means al-Assad. Knowing this, al-Assad seems to have taken no offense regarding the attack at all. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was referring to this fact when he publicly questioned whether there was a secret agreement between Syria and Israel and why al-Assad does not use any strength against Israel.
Israel’s old game
Here we go again. It’s all about the most popular usual suspect, Iran. Israel wanted to make it clear that the next attack may target either Hezbollah camps in Lebanon or Tehran. However Tel Aviv is playing an old game. Several recent developments point to the formation of a new strategic alignment of Iran, Russia and the U.S., which seem to have agreed on a framework to end the Syria crisis. Since Iran also fears a Syrian takeover, it must have been considered to be an effective partner on this issue. And the nuclear crisis cannot be divorced from this partnership. Last week U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration of America’s willingness to conduct direct nuclear talks with Iran got a cautious but positive response from Tehran. Besides, nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 are going to take place on Feb. 25.
Someone has to alert Israel that it cannot play a new game with the old rules.
This article was first published in Hurriyet Daily News on Feb. 12, 2013.
Verda Özer is a Ph.D. candidate at the Defense Academy of the U.K. and an international security expert. She works as a program manager at the Columbia Global Center Turkey and the German Marshall Fund of the United States and writes for the Hurriyet Daily News. She can be found on Twitter: @Verda_Ozer