The changing rules of the game



Hassan Barari

Published — Monday 6 May 2013

Last update 6 May 2013 4:41 am

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The recent Israeli airstrike on Syria may signal a change in former’s attitude toward the Syrian regime. For almost a couple of years, Israel has kept watching the situation closely without even taking an official stand. In fact, Israeli politicians and strategists are divided over the preferred outcome of the ongoing Syrian revolution. And yet, the successive Israeli governments made it perfectly clear that they would not tolerate any attempt to change the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah. Implicit in this Israeli firm position is the readiness of its military to prevent transferring Syrian or Iranian weapons to Hezbollah.
Israel sources confirmed the attack against specific targets in Syria. They added that Israel felt compelled to take this measure lest advanced weapons reach Hezbollah. In other words, for Israel, whenever the Syrian regime — which is held in check by the Israeli deterrence — tries to change the rules of the game, Israel employs force to place a price tag. Seen in this way, it is widely believed that Israel attacked some targets in Syria to prevent the shipment of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles from reaching Hezbollah. Israeli experts are concerned by the range of this kind of missile and their accuracy.
Not surprisingly, Israel will not hesitate from taking similar action in the future as its policy aims at disrupting the arms supply that goes from Syria to Lebanon. For Israel, “game changing” weapons have the potential of emboldening Hezbollah and therefore they will not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime tries to use the Israeli military strike — the second in three days — to remind the Arab countries that the Syrian regime is being targeted by Israel. The official media played it up as if the strike was a result of Assad’s position toward Israel. The Syrian regime gets accustomed to project itself as the last symbol of Pan-Arabism and true resistant state.
Paradoxically, Assad had earlier tried to stir fear in Israel and the West by insinuating that the fall of his regime would create a vacuum, which could be filled up by Al-Qaeda.
The Syrian media was quick to use the attack as if Israel is getting involved in the bloody civil war in Syria. “The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups which have been reeling from strikes by our noble army,” Syrian television reported.
The Israeli escalation by by striking into Syria is however not without the American support. President Barack Obama stressed that Israel has the right to take this step and prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Lebanon. This traditional American reaction has beefed up the Israeli government’s position to continue taking the same measure in the future. Like Israel, the United States believes that the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah is an extension of an Iranian scheme to change the balance of power in the region.
Additionally, American strategists and experts share with their Israeli counterparts the opinion that Iran may unleash Hezbollah if this helps Iran realize its objectives in the region.
To prevent Iran from having this advantage, the American administration is expected to agree with the Israeli military strikes. This cannot be more obvious after the American red lines — with regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria — “were crossed.” It seems Obama, who is under the pressure to intervene in the Syrian crisis after his “red lines were crossed,” cannot but support the Israeli government in its bid to keep the balance of power with Hezbollah intact.
On the other hand, the embattled Syrian president must have felt the humiliation of not being able to deter the Israeli strikes let alone retaliate. On more than one occasion, the Syrian regime has pledged to retaliate on a time and place of its own choice. It remains to be seen if the Syrian regime has any option to retaliate against any Israeli target.
While many experts believe that the Syrian regime is in no position to provoke Israel, some Israeli pundits argue that the Syrian docility may change once the regime reaches a point of no return. Haaretz, the Israeli daily, said on Sunday: “Israel has entered an extremely sensitive period on the northern border without the Israeli public being completely aware of it and certainly without knowing the details. If a more significant escalation erupts there, the security of citizens could be affected.”
Apart from the domestic front in Israel and the damaging impact of the air strikes on Syria, the rules of the game are changing.

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