Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Will Israel Take Out Assad?

It sounds like a bad dream until you factor in two things.   One, Assad has announced he has WMDs, chemical and biological, at his disposal and he's prepared to use them to thwart potential foreign intervenion.   Two, Assad's days are probably numbered and it's possible those WMDs could fall right into the hands of Islamist radicals who might be all too willing to use them against Israel.

I don't ordinarily have much sympathy for Israel but this situation is one in which that state faces a plausible existential threat.

Perhaps the most ominous words uttered in recent months by Ehud Barak, the influential Israeli defense minister, came in the form of a paradoxical reassurance. "I believe and hope that there will be no war this summer, but that is all that can be said at this time," he said in a televised interview on Friday.

Conventional wisdom has it that the louder the Israeli threats of war, the less likely that a war is imminent - and, in certain situations such as the present one, vice versa. Earlier this year, threats were flying - Barak was talking about the Iranian nuclear program entering an "immunity zone" by the end of the summer - but more recently this has changed dramatically. As Reuters observed two months ago, Israeli officials have gone into anominous "lock down."  Now comes Barak's statement.

The million-dollar question is, which war. From a narrow Israeli perspective, war may in fact be avoidable and all the threats - Barak is certainly aware of the ripple effect of his words - could be primarily defensive in nature. With the entire region in flux and its home front underprepared (only 53% of Israelis, for example, are equipped with gas masks), Israel might ideally prefer to save its shots.

From a broader regional perspective, the civil war in Syria is already a fact, and it looks as if the violence, both there and elsewhere, can only explode further. At some point in the near future, somebody will likely feel compelled to intervene, if not against the Iranian nuclear program, then against the Syrian chemical and biological weapons, if not through a full-scale attack then by a "surgical strike". If not Israel, this would most likely be the United States, though other regional players also stand ready to weigh in. In many ways, it's a war of nerves as much as it is a diplomatic bazaar, and it is hard to tell who will blink first and what deals will be struck.

...any Israeli intervention, save perhaps for a very brief and pointed strike, could rally popular support behind Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and thus backfire spectacularly. Other Arab states might face public pressure to shift their stance as well, and the coalition against Assad may come under strain. (During the First Persian Gulf War, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sought to exploit this dynamic by firing Scud missiles at Israel.)

Also, Syria's response to an Israeli incursion could escalate much more quickly and to much more gruesome levels than that against other aggressors. As the Syrian foreign ministry spokesman put it on Monday, "These [chemical and biological] weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."  It should be noted that the Syrian regime is almost as unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction against another Muslim country as it is against its own population, which leaves Israel the main target of its current threats.

There seems to be no way to predict what could happen but this is definitely a high stakes game, the biggest in the M.E. in a long, long time.


Kirbycairo said...

You write - "It sounds like a bad dream until . . . ."

No "until" is necessary. It sounds like a bad dream no matter how you put it.

e.a.f. said...

It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the region. So far any involvement from the west has been a waste of money & lives. The Iraq & Afghanistan wars have accomplished nothing more than dead people, a lot of money spent, cities destroyed, etc.

Why Syria is raising the issues of chemicals is interesting. Would they use it on other Arab countries? Why would they? If the west were to intervene then they might strike out at Israel because they would consider them a part of the west. I don't expect Syria to take aim at britain, the US.A., Canada, etc.

Israel is are a very careful country. Their military is first rate & they have pulled off some pretty amazing stuff.

My thought would be leave it all alone. Let the Syrians fight it out by themsleves. If the west wants to supply arms, fine but the west's interferance has not saved lives it only cost more.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but no empathy from me for any Israeli's they have been the bully and **** disturber in the Mid East since the English stole Palestine in 1948 and gave it to them lock stock and barrel when they had no right to the territory and are still illegal immigrants...