Israel’s scattered messages

Many political commentators have attempted to discern Israel’s real reasons for the dual strike it launched on military targets in Syria at the end of last week.

Personally, I figure that neither Israel’s strategy—especially in the Benjamin Netanyahu era—nor the Syrian regime’s lies of “steadfastness” and “resistance” that we have heard for over 40 years require deep thinking or further explanation. Rather, I believe that it is naïve to consider the Israeli strategy in isolation from the Syrian regime’s purpose behind “steadfastness.” Therefore, I disagree with Omran Al-Zoubi, the Syrian information minister who hastily argued that Israel’s recent attack had exposed its support of the opponents of the Assad’s regime; neither do I agree with Hezbollah’s ideologues, who have repeatedly stated that the purpose of the attack was to punish the regime for siding with the resistance camp.

Zoubi’s words—which we quite understand and have become familiar with—insult the intelligence of serious observers of Damascene policy since the autumn of 1970 and those who are familiar with the calm Golan front, occupied since the October war of 1973, whose declared purpose was, according to Anwar Sadat, to “shake” rather than to “liberate.”

Unfortunately, since the autumn of 1973 the direct military confrontation between Syria and Israel has taken a unilateral form. Even with terms such as “steadfastness”—and, more recently, “resistance”—being emphasized, the regime in Damascus always chose to “retain the right to retaliate” for Israeli attacks on Syrian soil.

“Retaining the right to retaliate” without specifying when and where has, as we heard recently, annoyed Zoubi’s fellow minister, Dr. Ali Haidar. To those who find Haidar’s annoyance surprising, we must note that he, together with Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, represent the opposition. That’s right: the very same “opposition” that is certified to operate in the government of a regime that has so far killed more than 100,000 Syrians and destroyed dozens of towns and villages.

Choosing sides

Let’s get serious. I think those who believe that Israel’s attacks on Syria were meant to support and take the pressure off the rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad are precisely those who benefit from the regime itself, either directly or indirectly, particularly given that Tel Aviv’s take on the more than two-year-old Syrian revolution has been suspicious, if not antagonistic. The same can be said about the Obama administration and the rest of the major Western powers. In what seems to be a game of reciprocal exploitation, the international community has contributed to destroying Syria and murdering its people. Neither the Western powers nor Russia and China seem to be concerned about the Syrian tragedy. On the contrary, they find in Syria a “theater of operations”—where they can exhaust their rival forces—and an arena to conduct negotiations.

In a message to the Syrian regime, Israel conveyed that it monitors all details and chooses the targets and the timing of its actions in line with its interests, regardless of its allies’ and opponents’ stances.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Iran and Israel have broader and wider strategic interests in the region. It is highly unlikely that Iran was surprised by the fallout of Syria’s embroilment in sectarian clashes via Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq in Iraq, having reaped the fruits of the U.S.-led invasion. On the other hand, it is hard to believe Israel’s concern over Syria’s slide toward sectarian “cleansing,” having been accused of exploiting religious and sectarian sensitivities and of dividing the Near East into conflicting sectarian entities.

Why did Israel choose to display strength at this exact time?

I heard, along with everybody else, Israel’s statements that the dual strike was not directed against the regime, but rather against a shipment of banned weapons bound for Hezbollah. However, it would be absurd and artificial to differentiate between the two allies. Hezbollah—every time one questions Damascus’ history of struggle in liberating Palestine—always defends Damascus’ axial role in supporting “resistance.” Israel understands that well.

On the other hand, Israel understands the nearly similar attitudes of Syria and Iran as far as war and peace are concerned, and how, since Assad Jr. came to power, Syrian policy became subordinate to that of Iran.

Therefore, I believe that Israel, through the dual airstrike, wanted to send several messages and in several directions.

In a message to the Israeli interior—only days before John Kerry’s meetings in Moscow—Israel wanted to drive home that it is able to strike when it wants and where it wants in the Middle East, and that it is a key player in the projects of the region.

Israel knows its targets

In a message to the Syrian regime, Israel conveyed that it monitors all details and chooses the targets and the timing of its actions in line with its interests regardless of its allies’ and opponents’ stances, in the knowledge that Assad’s army is dedicated solely to maintaining internal security, rather than liberation.

In a message to Washington, Israel confirmed that it has its own take on the situation whether or not Obama chooses to be a backseat driver, and that its decision to get involved in the crises of the Middle East is not a matter only for the White House.
In a message to Tehran, Israel attempted to probe the seriousness of Iran’s commitment in supporting Assad’s regime, and how far Tehran—and its allies in the region—can go when the situation reaches a decisive stage.

As for its message to the Syrian opposition, Israel wanted to further embarrass and confuse the rebel forces, urging them to depend further on the West’s support. This comes in light of the opposition’s disappointment with the region’s major players on which they—the opposition—have gambled, namely Turkey and Egypt.

I believe the Israeli strike delivered several messages, and it seems that the airstrikes produced a positive outcome for Israel.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 8, 2013.


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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.
 

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