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February 6, 2013
It has been almost a week since the Israeli airstrike on a Syrian convoy allegedly delivering anti-aircraft weapons to Hezbollah. Syria and Iran continue to fume about the incident and have upped the rhetoric on the possibility of retaliatory action. Meanwhile, regional observers have condemned Israel for what some consider a breach of international law and others simply consider bad timing. In Israel there is a sense that the government had no choice but to preempt the possibility of Hezbollah acquiring weaponry that could eventually be used in a conflict with Israel.
Immediately following news of the airstrike, Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, met with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to express Iran’s support for the Syrian regime. According to Tehran Times, in a press conference held after the meeting, Saeed Jalili warned that “Israel will regret its aggression against Syria....[adding that] one of the plots against the Islamic world was creating internal strife among Muslims in order to reduce the pressure on Israel. The top Iranian security official also warned Muslims against sectarian conflicts, adding that the recent Israeli action was a significant indication of the Zionist regime’s disappointment in achieving its plots.”
The Syrian regime maintains that the target of Israel’s attack was a research center and characterizes the event as a an assault on the broader region: “The Israeli aggression on a scientific research center in Jamraya in Damascus countryside reveals Israel's role, in collaboration with the hostile foreign powers and their tools in Syria, to destabilize and weaken Syria so as to force it to give up its national and Pan-Arab stances and principles....President al-Assad stressed that Syria is capable of confronting current challenges and repelling any aggression targeting the Syrian people and their historic and cultural role, thanks to the awareness of the Syrians, the might of the Syrian army and Syria's adherence to the path of resistance.”
Elsewhere in the region, many have expressed concern that Israel’s actions could undermine the Syrian opposition, which Assad has been quick to label an instrument of foreign powers. For example, Hurriyet Daily News’ Cihan Celik accused Israel of handing “President Bashar al-Assad a perfect opportunity to rally the divided Syrians, and even other Arabs and Muslims, around a ‘divine cause’.... If there is anything that can bring alienated Arab public opinion together with leaders — whether allied on not — it is ‘resistance’ against Israel....Regardless of its attitude to the attack, or Israel’s plans for more, the assault has dealt a serious blow to the Syrian opposition, which will be now labeled the ‘friend of a foe’ following accusations that it is part of an ‘international conspiracy’ against Damascus amid decreasing support and attention from Western-led allies.”
The attack was also notably condemned by the Saudi Arabian government, which took umbrage at the targeting of Arab countries by the state of Israel. In particular, the Saudi Council of Ministers “condemned the Israeli aggression on the Syrian territory and considered it a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Arab state. The Cabinet session, chaired by Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, called the attack a violation of the UN Charter as well as the norms of international law and the UN Security Council resolutions.”
But the Saudi condemnation was too little too late for the Peninsula staff, who have expressed their dismay at the lack of response from the Arab world against the violation of an Arab country’s airspace: “Normally, an Israeli strike on an Arab country would trigger a volley of condemnation and outrage. So it was surprising that the air strike on Syria last week by Tel Aviv went largely unnoticed in Arab capitals. It’s true that there is a revolution going on against President Bashar Al Assad, which has made him a persona non grata, and Syria is in tatters, both economically and politically, but that should not be used as an excuse by a foreign country to abuse its sovereignty and therefore the Israeli aggression needs to be condemned in the strongest terms.”
In Israel, meanwhile, the media has broken its silence on the incident, with many seeing the decision of Israel’s government as a consequence of the instability in the region and the need for preemptive self-defense. For example, the Jerusalem Post editorial argues that given Israel’s geographic proximity, the Israeli government had no choice but to act: “Under the circumstances, a vacuum of indecision with no easy answers has been created. Not only are the U.S.’s and other Western nations’ options limited, so are Israel’s. But due to the geographic proximity, Israel is more directly affected by what by the unfolding turmoil in Syria....Whatever the facts regarding purported Israeli attacks, it is clear that Israel has a right and an obligation to prevent the anarchy in Syria from spilling over to Lebanon and endangering Israeli citizens.”
Finally, Alex Fishman, in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, wonders about the implications of Israel’s actions and whether it might signal “a prelude to a broad military conflict on the northern front?...Despite the fact that Israel is not interested in an extensive confrontation on the Lebanese front, over the past year — and particularly over the past few months — the IDF has been preparing for such a conflict. Apart from the physical preparedness, army brass is mentally prepared for the possibility that a conflict will break out. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Israel is closer to a military conflict in the north today than it has been at any point in time since the Second Lebanon War.”
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