There have been the expected reactions from Israel’s air-strike on a military research facility/missiles convoy/biological weapons/depot/any combination of all or any of the above. But there have also been some – how shall we call them? – surreal reactions too.
Unsurprisingly, if not amusingly, Hezbollah called for international condemnation of the Israeli strike.
The Lebanese Foreign Minister called for a boycott of Israel.
And Iran, in typically overblown rhetoric, threatened to “knock Israel comatose” in retaliation for the strike.
In this respect it is strange indeed that Turkey’s irascible Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu slammed Syria’s Bashar Assad for not responding to Israel’s strike. He even came up with the surreal suggestion that Israel and Assad are in cahoots!
On his way to Munich, where he will meet with world leaders to discuss developments in Syria, Ahmet Davutoglu asked reporters, ”Why didn’t Assad even throw a pebble when Israeli jets were flying over his palace and playing with the dignity of his country?”
Davutoglu suggested that the Syrian leader is conspiring with Israel: “Is there a secret agreement between Assad and Israel? The Assad regime only abuses. Why don’t you use the same power that you use against defenseless women against Israel, which you have seen as an enemy since its foundation,” he said, according to The Hurriyet news agency.
The foreign minister said that Turkey will not stand by as Israel attacks a Muslim country.
“Syria must do what a country under attack has to do,” Today’s Zaman quoted Davutoglu as saying, seemingly goading the Assad regime to retaliate.
Turkey’s reaction is not only unexpected, it is completely illogical. Turkey turned against Assad’s Syria because it is viewed as a client state of Iran which in turn is both a military threat and a danger to Turkey’s ambitions for regional hegemony.
So what caused Davutoglu to bash Assad for not retaliating against Israel? It would seem that Davutoglu is so keen to establish his Muslim and anti-Israel credentials that he is lashing out without due care. The cognitive dissonance he must be suffering from must be unbearable.
Consider me unsympathetic.
Syria’s opposition similarly condemned Assad for his lack of response to Israel’s air-strike.
Syrian opposition leaders and rebels on Friday slammed President Bashar Assad for not responding to a rare Israeli airstrike near Damascus, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to the Jewish State.
The opposition’s sharp reaction underlines how those seeking to topple the Syrian leader might be more prepared to tangle with Israel if they came to power.
Wednesday’s Israeli airstrike that US officials say hit a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons bound for the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group also has fueled rage among many Syrians who say they now must fear warplanes from both Assad’s forces and Israel.
“Assad never once in his life stood up to Israel,” said Kamal Labwani, a prominent Syrian dissident and member of the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of those trying to oust Assad. “All he ever did is ‘reserve the right to retaliate’ but he never retaliated against anyone other than the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army.”
This all makes sense in a convoluted way. If the Jihadist Syrian opposition, who are not Western liberals to put it mildly, had ambitions to take control of Syria’s WMD capabilities, they must be pretty furious that their plans have been thwarted. In that respect, it probably did suit Assad that Israel bombed the weapons facilities. If he can’t use them, he certainly won’t want his home-grown enemies to have them.
The reaction of the opposition bodes seriously ill for future relations between Israel and Syria. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, you’d be wrong. From the same ToI article:
The opposition group promised the Syrian people it would use political and diplomatic means to halt such attacks and said it would establish a “deterrent force” to guard against any such future attacks.
Those comments raised the question about how those seeking to topple Assad would handle the thorny issue of relations with Israel if they came to power.
Many among Syria’s disparate opposition leaders are Syrian and Arab nationalists fiercely opposed to the Jewish State.
Mouaz al-Khatib, a 52-year-old preacher-turned-activist, has been criticized by some for calling Zionism a “cancerous movement” and praising Iraq’s late dictator Saddam Hussein for “terrorizing the Jews.”
The umbrella group is dominated by members of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which is known for its enmity to Israel. And among the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels who are fighting to end Assad’s rule, the Islamic extremists are gaining dominance.
Giving us more detail about the air-strike, an Iraqi newspaper reports that IAF planes fired 8 missiles and a bunker-buster at a chemical and biological weapons manufacturing facility.
Another source tells us that the target of the air-strike was Damascus’ main chemical, biological weapons research center:
Citing “senior US security sources,” the newspaper said that the center had known ties to a North Korean research center of the same kind.
According to the NYT, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, “Has been the target of American and Western sanctions for more than a decade because of intelligence suggesting that it was the training site for engineers who worked on chemical and biological weaponry.”
Several US security sources said that Jerusalem had informed Washington of the impending strike. A senior US military official said that “the Israelis had a small strike package,” meaning, according to the NYT, that “a relatively few fighter aircraft slipped past Syria’s air defenses and targeted both the missiles and the research center.”
“They clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks,” the American official said.
Security experts said that the ease with which Israeli planes reached the Syrian capital was most likely also meant to send a message to Assad, as well as to Iran – a known sponsor of both the regime in Syria and the Shiite terror group.
In much more disturbing news, there are reports that Hezbollah is already in possession of some chemical weapons:
As reports and analyses of what was said to be an Israeli attack on advanced Russian missiles dispatched from Syria to Hizbullah terrorist bases along the border with Lebanon, Syrian rebels said that Hizbullah had already received numerous advanced weapons from Syria – including chemical weapons. A report in a Saudi newspaper quoted Syrian rebel groups as saying that Syria had already last year transferred chemical weapons to Hizbullah.
Israel has said that transfer of such weapons would be a “red line” which Jerusalem could not ignore, essentially a declaration of war by Syria and Hizbullah against Israel.
The report in the Al-Wattan newspaper quoted a rebel spokesperson as saying that the transfer took place over a 40 day period in February and March 2012. The shipment included at least two tons of mustard gas, along long range missiles that could reach within 300 kilometers into Israel that were capable of carrying chemical weapons.
In more news that make us say “Hmm”, there has been a mysterious explosion in the Lebanese city of Tyre.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported at the time that an explosion was heard in villages east of Tyre, although they added that the cause of the explosion was unknown.
Hezbollah’s network Al-Manar later reported that the explosion in the Tyre area was due to a stun grenade thrown by unknown assailants.
However the Lebanese media were quick to blame Israel after reporting that IAF planes had been seen flying in the area for hours.
One piece of good news emerging out of all of this is that the IDF’s Chief of Staff Benny Ganz is now in the United States as a guest of his American counterpart in order to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons and the general regional instability:
Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived in Washington, D.C., Sunday as the guest of his US counterpart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
A statement released by an IDF spokesperson said that the two “will conduct a series of work meetings together, as well as meetings with other American officials. They will also discuss current security challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation.”
Sources in Israel’s security establishment told Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that during the five-day trip the two sides will deal primarily with developments and possible risks stemming from the civil war in Syria. The main issue will be how the United States and Israel will deal jointly in the case that rebels or Hezbollah take control of chemical weapons now in the hands of the Syrian army.
Yediot Ahronot also reports that Western sources have indicated that Israel, the United States and possibly NATO would carry out air operations and even use ground forces to prevent chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of rebels or Hezbollah.
It’s very good news that Israel and the US are showing that despite all rumours to the contrary, there is still close security cooperation between the two countries. This is to the benefit of both countries and for all rest of the civilized world.