The possibilities, perils and permutations of an Allied attack on Syria in response to its chemical weapons attack have been discussed endlessly in the media as well as in Parliaments across the Western world. I addressed some of these issues here, here and here. In short, the US and the Allies are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
But one country hardly figures in all these discussions: Israel.
Whichever way the war might go, Israel is likely to bear the brunt of any response.
A Western attack on Syria could lead to either Syria, Iran or one of its proxies launching missiles at Israel in order to hurt America since Israel is viewed as both an ally and an outpost of the US.
Some of the blood-curdling threats:
The Iranian army chief warns “Zionists will burn” if the US attacks Syria.
Iran’s chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted by Israel’s Channel 2 Wednesday declaring that “if the US attacks, the Zionists will burn,” and an Iranian journalist said to be close to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly warned that Israel would “face tens of thousands of missiles.”
Taleb Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst, warned on state television that an American strike would prompt a three-front attack on Israel — by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. A second Syrian television commentator, meanwhile, was quoted saying that “the land [of Israel] will tremble.”
An Iranian commander said that a US strike would bring about Israel’s destruction.
The Syrians themselves evidently believe that a US strike is imminent and have been taking precautions by moving their Scud missiles out of range:
At the headquarters of the army’s 155th Brigade, a missile unit whose base sprawls along the western edge of Syria’s main highway running north from the capital to Homs, rebel scouts saw dozens mobile Scud launchers pulling out early on Thursday.
Rebel military sources said spotters saw missiles draped in tarpaulins on the launchers, as well as trailer trucks carrying other rockets and equipment. More than two dozen Scuds – 11-metre (35-foot) long ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 km (200 miles) and more – were fired from the base in the Qalamoun area this year, some of which hit even Aleppo in the far north.
The base was among a list of suggested targets presented by the rebel Syrian National Coalition to Western envoys in Istanbul earlier this week, opposition sources said. Scud units, of Soviet or North Korean manufacture, are designed to be mobile and so could still be set up quickly to fire from new positions.
Assad’s forces appeared already by Wednesday to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus, residents and opposition sources in the capital said.
In the Qalamoun area, an activist calling himself Amer al-Qalamouni told Reuters by telephone: “Most of the personnel in the base appear to have left.
He added that trailer trucks loaded with military equipment were also seen on the Damascus ring road to the south: “Either the hardware is being transported to be stored elsewhere or it will remain constantly on the move to avoid being hit,” he said.
Captain Firas Bitar of the Tahriri al-Sham rebel force, who is from the Qalamoun area but is based in a Damascus suburb, said two other missile units based near the 155th in the districts of Qutaifa and Nasiriya were also moving rockets out.
He said they could be move northwest to loyalist strongholds near Homs or further into the coastal mountain heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
Opposition sources also suspected the evacuation of another missile unit based in Sahya, just south of Damascus.
However Israel is also likely to suffer the long-term consequences if the West does not respond to Syria’s chemical weapons attack on its civilians since Iran (and Syria) could interpret inaction as Western unresolve and might then feel encouraged to go forward with their nuclear plans.
Honest Reporting explains that Israel is between a rock and a hard place with Syria and there are no good solutions:
On the other hand, there is no good outcome for Israel. While the removal of Assad and the resultant clipping of Iranian and Hezbollah wings would be welcome, the prospect of an anarchic Syrian state dominated by jihadists and terror organizations right on the Israeli border is not a desirable outcome.
In contrast to the first Gulf War in 1990, when Israel suffered Iraqi scuds in silence, this time Israel has no intention of taking any attack on its territory lying down. The IDF chief of staff warned that any attack on Israel will carry a painful price:
Against the background of a possible American strike against Syria, the Israeli Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz threatened Israel’s neighbor to the north that aggression will carry a “painful price.”
“In the case of fire directed at Israel, it’s clear to all the world’s leaders that the price will be painful and the enemy’s loss a dire one,” the chief of staff said on Thursday.
Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “set” for an American strike in Syria and that there is no need to alter the daily routine: “We’ve decided to spread out Iron Dome (missile defense system) and our other interception units,” he said during a security consult in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu stressed that Israel is not involved in the Syrian civil war, but warned that “If anyone tries to harm the citizens of Israel, the IDF will respond mightily.”
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino also addressed the situation in Syria and said: “I want to tell all of Israel – we are prepared. I ask the citizens of Israel to not change their plans for the upcoming holidays; we will do everything necessary in order to maintain the routine and security of the people. You have someone to rely on.”
In preparation for a possible Syrian strike, the IDF has deployed Iron Dome and Patriot and Arrow 3 missile batteries around Israel as well as issuing a limited number of reservists call-ups. It has also accelerated the distribution of gas masks to all Israeli citizens, though there are shortages due to budget cuts.
From the JTA link above, it is evident that Israelis are remaining calm:
Still, the IDF is urging calm and says the chances of a Syrian attack are low. An IDF source told JTA that the Home Front Command has not issued any special instructions to civilians and that “what you’re seeing now is a response from the public.”
“Right now there isn’t any sense of panic,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. “There isn’t a freakishly high concern. Everybody is relatively calm. If it was clear that there could be a chance that something would happen, we’d see the consequences of that in terms of Home Front Command instructions to the public.”
Daila Amos, a spokesperson for the Golan Regional Council, said life is continuing normally on the Golan Heights, where stray shells from the fighting across the Syrian border have fallen several times in the past year and where residents are used to a heightened troop presence.
I can attest to the relative calmness of the Israeli public from my own experience. More or less everyone I’ve met and spoken to in the last few days is more interested in doing their festival shopping for the upcoming 3-day Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) weekend next week than in shopping for provisions for a possible war. Talk amongst my women friends in general is “what meals have you planned” or “have you seen any chickens at bargain prices?”, whereas for the men it’s “Where are saying selichot (penitential prayers) this year” or “Have you booked your seats in shul (synagogue) for Rosh Hashana?”. Of course the possibility of war is being discussed, and this might become more prevalent in the next few days, but for the moment the attitude is “Keep calm and carry on cooking”.
Calmness amongst the citizenry is a good thing, but despite this, as an Israeli and as a human being I feel outraged at the calmness, even apathy, of the international community at the blood-curdling threats being issued against Israel which is a completely uninvolved third party in this bitter war.
The Europeans have outdone themselves in their chutzpah once more by asking Israel to show restraint in the face of these mortal threats, and the gall is no less mitigated by the fact that they request restraint of Syria too. After all, Syria is the aggressor in this instance whereas Israel is a mere innocent bystander:
It was further reported that Western nations asked Israel to exercise restraint in case of an assault by Assad or other “actors” supporting him. According to the report, Israel has made it clear it will not sit idly if there will be an excessive response.
So where is the world outrage, where are the protests, at these threats against an innocent third party? An excellent editorial in the Jerusalem Post, which also appears at Sarah Honig’s blog, blasts the international community for their apathy at Israel’s plight:
There can be no passivity when potent threats are hurled at Israel from a coterie of evil powers in the context of a struggle in which Israel is uninvolved. In a fairer existence, this very fact alone ought to have acutely unsettled the international community. But it’s almost futile to expect a modicum of fair-mindedness where Israel is concerned.
So far the anti-Israel bluster from Damascus, Tehran and Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon appear to have disturbed none of the foreign statesmen or opinion-molders, whose alacrity to condemn Israel for any perceived transgression is nothing short of remarkable. Moreover, the veiled hints from Moscow about dire repercussions for the entire region in the event of an American attack, might also imply warnings about impending punishment for Israel.
… Regardless of what eventually transpires, all Israelis should be deeply troubled by the profound indifference abroad to our lot – blameless as we are in the internecine Syrian strife. The very fact, that a neighboring state could be presumed to be held to ransom for occurrences entirely out of its control, should shock world opinion. But it does not.
Israelis might be forgiven for suspecting that the reaction would be radically different had any other country been similarly threatened for no fault of its own. Sadly we must come to terms with the likelihood that different criteria are applied to the Jewish state.
This is disconcertingly reminiscent of our extremely traumatic experience during the First Gulf War. Events then were also played out beyond the Israeli context. Nonetheless, Israel suffered repeated heavy missile attacks, including 40 Scud hits. The deadly warheads were aimed directly and unmistakably at civilian population centers.
Saddam Hussein’s raison d’être was that by targeting Israel he was hurting the US. In the view of all too many Mideastern despots and potentates Israel is nothing but an American underling. At the time there was no audible international indignation. The only American response was to advocate Israeli restraint. Indeed Israel avoided retaliation, thereby compromising its deterrence and underscoring its vulnerabilities for the sake of American interests.
But there was no gratitude for Israel’s sacrifices. Washington only pressured Israel for territorial concessions, never counted Saddam’s anti-Israeli aggression among his sins and treated Israel largely like a mistress whose favors are required but must never be publicly acknowledged.
This might well be the role which the Obama administration now wants Israel to reprise. This is precisely the behavior which Israel must under no circumstances repeat.
This time indeed Israel has made it clear – through pronouncements by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.Gen. Benny Gantz – that this country and its inhabitants will not be pawns in the wars that others wage.
Some Assad-watchers in Israel maintain that he understands quite well that Israel of 2013 isn’t Israel of 1990. They note that it would make no sense for him to strike out against Israel because he knows that vigorous Israeli retribution would seal his fate.
The experts are right – rationally that is just so. However, we had likewise heard precisely such learned estimations immediately prior to the first American invasion of Iraq and they too sounded eminently reasonable… to us. The problem is that this region does not operate according to our logic.
The international community doesn’t operate according to our logic either, only according to its own internal logic, whereby Israel is a valid and reasonable target of Arab regimes even when it is completely uninvolved in their wars.
It’s about time that Israel’s logic – defending itself and taking preemptive action where necessary – came to the fore, including ignoring demands for restraint from the apathetic Europeans and hesitant Americans.