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Assad and the Israeli Air Raid - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israel’s air raid on Syria cannot be considered surprising, particularly as the Assad regime has done the impossible to drag Israel into the crisis, according to its own calculations, in order to portray what is happening in the country as being the result of foreign schemes. Therefore the question that must be asked here is: Why now? And what are the implications of this? Assad has repeatedly tried to engage Israel in this regard, whether via the Golan Heights or Lebanon, but this always met with failure. However Israel has now carried out an air raid against an uncertain target, with the Assad regime claiming that this struck a research center, while international reports claim that it targeted rockets being transferred to Hezbollah. In order to further clarify this, let me relate some information that I heard about approximately six weeks ago when a well-known Arab leader told me that Israel was monitoring all weapons in Syria, and that it intends to target any arms being moved or transferred, including targeting chemical weapons sites. The Arab leader said that it would be an act of madness for Israel to take unilateral action to target Syrian chemical weapons, as the consequences of this would affect everybody. He said that it was therefore vital to convince Israel not to take this course of action. This means that Israel was, and continues to, closely monitor the situation in Syria, and it has comprehensive plans on how to deal with the developing situation there.

The implications of the Israeli operation in Syria are also very important. If this operation was to target Russian-made rockets being transferred to Hezbollah-and this is the most likely story so far-then this means that Assad has realized that the balance of power on the ground has changed, and that he is no longer even capable of ensuring that SA-17 missiles remain in his hands. The other possibility is that Assad has sensed that there may soon be international intervention against him, and therefore wants to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah in the hope that they can be used from Lebanese territory. This represents last minute thinking and is ultimately a desperate move reminiscent of what Saddam Hussein did when he smuggled his warplanes to Iran following his occupation of Kuwait. This also indicates that Assad is prepared to fight till the end, but with fragile capabilities. It would be disastrous for Hezbollah to defend Assad in this manner, not just militarily, but also in terms of the group’s popular support.

Another consequence of this air raid is that it has revealed that Israel is monitoring the course of events on the ground in Syria, and is acting according to specific goals, unless Assad breaks the rules of the game. This means that it is acceptable for him to kill his people and destroy Syria, and this of course represents a strategic gain for Israel; however it is not acceptable for Assad-nor the rebels-to change the rules of the game. For all that the Israelis want is to ensure that this war continues to be an inter-Syrian affair, which exhausts Assad’s allies, particularly as Israel is sure that Assad’s fall is inevitable. This also exhausts Syria as a whole, which is something that ensures future security for Israel when the crisis ends, regardless of its result. This is because Syria as a whole will be exhausted and out of the equation for a long period of time. This viewpoint, of course, is limited. However what is strange is that this is precisely Assad and Iran’s plan, namely that there is no Syria after Assad.