Last week, Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that an “attack on Syria is considered attack on Iran.”
Yesterday, in a dangerous act of brinkmanship, Israel called Iran’s bluff.
But Israel doesn’t want to be perceived as risking provoking a war and so it portrayed its air strike on Syria as an imperative act of self defense necessitated by Syria’s alleged attempt to transport Russian-made SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Syria denies that a convoy carrying such missiles was struck and even though the word of the Syrian government carries little weight these days, there are several reasons to doubt the narrative that U.S. officials have been disseminating.
Soon after Operation Orchard, an Israeli strike on a nuclear facility in Syria on September 6, 2007, U.S. officials told the New York Times that “the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel’s government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria.” It was weeks later before details of the carefully planned operation became clear.
And here’s the all-important point: the timing of a strike on a convoy is going to be determined by the commanders of the convoy. Israel gets word that missiles are on the move and thus is left with “no choice” but to intervene.
But if the attack is on a stationary facility, then the timing of an attack is much more in Israel’s control.
This week there were multiple indications that Israel was preparing for military action:
- On Sunday, Israel warned that it could launch a pre-emptive strike to stop Syria’s chemical weapons from reaching Hezbollah.
- Iron Dome air defense batteries were moved into northern Israel earlier in the week.
- IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi travelled to Washington for consultations with American officials.
- Benjamin Netanyahu sent his National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to Moscow.
- And Netanyahu phoned President Obama on Monday, after a meeting on Sunday with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
So what are we supposed to believe? That in spite of the warnings, Syrian officials decided to try their luck and send a missile-carrying convoy on its way with the slim hope that it might evade attack?
Or, that Israel knew that the target of its choice, a research facility in the area of Jamraya, northwest of Damascus, could be struck at a time of Israel’s choosing and by striking now, Iran’s earlier pledge to defend Syria would be shown as empty — or, if Iran does actually follow through, then a pretext may have been created for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
For Netanyahu, soon to lead a government that will probably be less inclined to support military muscle flexing, this week may have looked like the ideal time to place a wager that he thinks he cannot lose.