By ISRAEL HAYOM—
Although the veil of secrecy over the strikes that occurred in Syria in recent days has not yet been lifted, something is clear: Israel appears to be working to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Syria and Hezbollah are reluctant to respond and the Obama administration continues to be passive.
Western and Arab media reports that have flowed in, some of them contradictory, paint the following picture: According to Reuters, Israel’s Diplomatic-Security Cabinet met on Thursday evening to approve a strike on a missile shipment that was headed to Hezbollah. The New York Times reported on Saturday that these were Fateh-110 missiles, manufactured in Iran. The reported attack took place at Damascus International Airport, in a warehouse operated by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. Assuming these reports are credible, then one has to ask the following: Since the Iranian Fateh-110 is similar to the Syrian M-600, why did Israel attack these “game-changing” Iranian missiles, risking a response from Syria or Hezbollah, when there are hundreds of similar Syrian missiles already in Lebanon?
It’s possible that the answer is “to send a signal.”
In addition to eliminating a number of Hezbollah-bound missiles, an attack like this makes it clear to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah that Israel is serious when it says it will act to prevent the transfer of weapons from Syria to Lebanon, especially considering that Israel reportedly carried out a similar strike in January. The deeper message, directed toward Iran, is that Israel will go anywhere (including Sudan, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon) to fight against efforts to arm its enemies.
As of Sunday morning, it appears that the messages have been received and that the other side is not interested in responding to the alleged Israeli strike. In January, after Israel reportedly destroyed a shipment of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles that was apparently on its way from Syria to Lebanon, Syria and Hezbollah said they would not permit such Israeli acts to become routine. Israel has now reportedly attacked again, and there has been no response.
I believe Israel would prefer that details of its alleged attacks not be published. All reports of such attacks embarrass Syria and Hezbollah, pushing them into a corner and forcing them to respond at some point.
It seems that a U.S. official with knowledge of the details of the alleged Israeli attack was responsible for the reports that came out on Saturday. In professional jargon, this U.S. official “burned” Israel.
But it may be that the U.S. official’s real intent was to “burn” the Obama administration. American citizens, who are not familiar with the details of arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon, see Israel as fighting against the evil taking place in Syria, while the U.S. government continues to be satisfied with empty statements. It is possible that the reports of Israeli airstrikes, which follow the statement two weeks ago by an Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, are pushing the U.S. government closer to a decision on whether to actively intervene in Syria.
While the geopolitical situation is becoming more complicated, if the reports are true the IDF has again notched an impressive operational achievement. A strike like this requires precise intelligence that is not easy to obtain, especially with an enemy that is alert, careful and compartmentalized, having been exposed in the past. There also had to be thorough operational planning.
This combination of intelligence and operational planning has led to a long string of successes in recent years. This is key both to preventing the arming of Israel’s enemies and providing a sharp and unequivocal response if current or future operations lead to escalation.