Following an Israeli strike on Syria this week, the Wall Street Journal reports: Inside Syria, rebels and members of the opposition pointed to the lack of an immediate retaliatory strike as proof that the Syrian regime is impotent against enemies even as it is quick to target its own people.
“It’s a disgrace when Israeli war planes attack Syria and your jets have no other job but to attack bakeries, mosques, universities and civilians,” Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the Western-backed Syrian opposition umbrella group known as the National Coalition, wrote Thursday on his Facebook account, addressing President Bashar al-Assad.
On Wednesday, Mr. Khatib said he was willing to start a dialogue with representatives of the Syrian regime provided it releases 160,000 opposition detainees, prompting a sharp rebuke from other members of the coalition.
Most members of the Syrian opposition consider Hezbollah and Iran accomplices in the suppression of their quest to topple Mr. Assad. On the ground Thursday, clashes raged on the outskirts of Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and other flash points around Syria as the regime continued to use heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, according to residents and opposition activists.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi condemned the attack on Syria, calling it a blatant violation of sovereignty. Mr. Salehi’s deputy announced Tehran would give Syria a $200 million aid package that included funds to rebuild a damaged electrical plant and hospital, according to Iranian state media.
In an analysis, Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and is considered a mouthpiece for the group’s views, said Israel’s military strike had several goals, among them weakening Syria’s military and weapons stocks, demoralizing Syria’s army and preparing public opinion for foreign military intervention in Syria. The agency suggested that the best way to retaliate against Israel would be to better arm and fund Hezbollah in Lebanon.
There was little apparent anxiety in Israel a day after the attack. The prevailing view in Israel, as well as among many regional analysts, is that Syria and its allies currently have no stomach for an open conflict with the Jewish state.
“Syria is in a process of disintegration. It can’t afford to escalate with Israel, because Israel is capable of destroying a large part of the military in a short time, and it will make the job of the rebels easier,” said Shlomo Brom, a fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies and a former senior military planner.
“It is difficult for Hezbollah to respond in an open way,” he continued. “They are weaker. They moved from a situation in which they were adored by the Arab states, to a situation in which they are the bad guys because they are cooperating with those who are oppressing the people,” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s ties to Mr. Assad.
But Israel shouldn’t risk a strategically costly entanglement in Syria’s civil war for a tactical goal of blocking weapons transfers, cautioned Guy Bechor, head of the Middle East department at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He said Israel should continue to watch from the sidelines, like most foreign powers, while its enemy is embroiled in a debilitating internal conflict.
“This is not our war,” he told Israel Radio. “We’ve sat on the sidelines for two years. No one else is intervening, so why are we?”
AFP adds: There was still no official Israeli comment on Syrian claims that Israeli warplanes bombed a military site near Damascus on Wednesday or on separate reports that its aircraft struck a weapons convoy along the Syria-Lebanon border.
[Israeli] Newspapers, however, seemed to have little doubt on what had happened or the likely consequences.
“Complete restraint over the long term to Israel’s actions could be considered weakness by Hezbollah, so we should expect some form of response, even if not immediately and not necessarily a broad rocket and missile attack on Israel,” defence commentator Amos Harel wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz daily.
“The Hezbollah convoy, which according to foreign reports was attacked from the air while travelling from Syria to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, laden with explosives, will not be the last,” Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Aharonot.
“It would seem, from a pessimistic view, that we are on the way to a military confrontation on at least one of the two northern fronts,” he added, referring to Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon.