How to Understand Israel’s Strike on Syria


By Amos Yadlin
New York Times (op-ed)
Sept. 8, 2017

In the early hours of Thursday night, according to the Syrian Army, the Israeli Air Force attacked a military site in the Syrian town of Masyaf that produces advanced missiles. Though the attack does not compare in strategic value to Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear reactor, which the Israeli Air Force destroyed a decade ago, it represents a major step in the right direction for Israel’s policy toward Syria. This strike sent five key messages – messages that point toward Israel adopting a more proactive strategy in confronting the threats posed by the Assad regime and its partners, Iran and Hezbollah.

The first message is strategic. Throughout the Syrian civil war, Israel has avoided taking sides and has largely limited its role in the conflict to targeting weapons shipments en route to Hezbollah. Now, it seems, Israel is broadening the scope of its action to prevent its key adversaries from producing or acquiring advanced weaponry in the first place. This is essentially an extension of the Begin Doctrine, pioneered by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1981, which insisted that Israel carry out preemptive strikes to stop its enemies from constructing nuclear-enrichment plants as well as production facilities for advanced conventional weapons.

The second message is political. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already notified Moscow and Washington that the agreement they reached in July, which reportedly stipulated that Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed forces must keep 10 to 20 kilometers away from Israel’s northern border, is unacceptable. If it is not feasible to oust these Tehran-backed groups, then at the very least they must be pushed significantly further away from Israel’s border. Israel, which in August sent a delegation headed by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to the White House while Prime Minister Netanyahu himself went to Sochi, Russia, to meet with President Putin to discuss the ceasefire, is now clarifying that if the great powers fail to take its critical interests into account when deciding on the future of Syria, it will act independently to protect itself.

The third message has to do with credibility. In a world where threats are cheap and plentiful – recall President Trump’s recent promise of “fire and fury” against North Korea – it is much more meaningful when a nation delivers on tough rhetoric. In this specific case, the complex that was attacked was a research and production center belonging to the CERS Institute. The institute is funded mostly by Iran, utilizes Iranian technology and produces advanced long-range missiles and chemical weapons for the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah. The strike should indicate to both Tehran and Damascus that Israel is willing to take decisive action to prevent the development of long-term strategic threats.

The fourth message is about Israel’s freedom of military operations, and the Russian strategy in Syria. The strike rebuts those claims that the Israeli Air Force was negatively affected by the deployment of powerful Russian air defenses in Syria. That the targeted facility is located in an area under the Russian air shield points to one of two possibilities: either Russia understands the level of Israeli concern of Iran taking over Syria, or the Israeli Air Force has again proved that no air defense system is perfect.

The final message – and perhaps the most important – is the moral one. With the exception of its humanitarian assistance to Syria, which includes treating thousands of wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals, Israel has all but ignored the war crimes that the Assad regime, the Iranians and Hezbollah are committing against the Syrian people. As Israelis and especially as Jews, we must not stand as spectators as a genocide is being carried out via chemical weapons, mass executions, bombings, starvation and displacement. The facility that was hit produces chemical weapons, barrel bombs and a variety of other weapons that the Assad regime has used to massacre innocents. Destroying it could save countless lives.

So what happens now? Israel should prepare for a possible response from Syria or even Iran. Militarily, Israel is ready – tens of thousands of troops have been called up for the largest exercise in decades. However, it is important to avoid being dragged into war along the northern border; any such confrontation would be costly to both sides in terms of blood and treasure. On the diplomatic side, Israel must return to Washington and Moscow and once more clarify that it will not accept the ongoing Iranian takeover of Syria. They may now find much more attentive audiences.

Israel knows the bitter truth of the phrase “an ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention.” Deciding to take action before it is absolutely necessary is not easy, but Israel’s experience proves that it is far better in the long-term to confront budding threats rather than nuclear ones.

Israel just showed what a ‘red line’ is really supposed to mean
By Benny Avni
New York Post
September 7, 2017

A red line’s a red line. That was Israel’s message when it struck a major Syrian arms facility from the air.

Jerusalem officials declined to comment for the record, but Syrian and Lebanese media reported that the Israeli Defense Force struck a major missile and military research facility at Masyaf, Syria, that’s controlled by President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian co-conspirators.

The daring attack carried all the hallmarks of Israel’s unique brand of non-proliferation enforcement. In an age of major proliferation crises, that method should be studied carefully and emulated when possible.

The strike was “not routine,” tweeted Amos Yadlin, the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “It targeted a Syrian military-scientific center for the development and manufacture of precision missiles” that also “produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”

Yadlin, who once commanded the IDF intelligence unit, knows a thing or two about combatting proliferation: He was one of the pilots who took part in Israel’s 1981 “Operation Opera” to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant.

The hit on the Syrian factory was reminiscent of another IDF feat, which occurred 10 years before, to the day: “Operation Orchard,” the mission that leveled a nascent Syrian nuclear facility, built with the help of Iran and North Korea.

Israel has told everyone (including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week) that it wouldn’t allow into Syria and Lebanon certain arms, including precision-guided missiles, that can change the face of future wars against it. Wednesday’s operation made clear it means it.

It also dealt a major blow to Syria’s chemical-arms capabilities. Washington had fingered the bombed facility as one of Syria’s three chemical-arms factories.

And as it happens, just hours before the Israeli attack, the United Nations confirmed Assad’s responsibility for a horrific chemical strike on the town Khan Sheikhun last April. Some 83 people, mostly civilians, were confirmed killed in that strike.

In response, President Trump authorized the firing of US Tomahawks on a Syrian air base, in a symbolic departure from President Obama’s failure to enforce his own red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Recall that Obama, back in 2013, instead agreed to a Russian scheme for Assad to sign the international chemical-arms convention, vow to never use those weapons again and destroy all his chemical stockpiles.

It’s a familiar tale: We negotiate with bad actors and proliferators of banned weapons in the hope of avoiding military action, get them to promise not to do it again and, presto, problem solved. Without firing a shot.

Obama signed a nuclear deal with Iran that was also based on promises. A decade from now, that may well look as ineffective as the deal Bill Clinton signed with North Korea in the 1990s, when Kim Jong-un’s father agreed to end his nuclear program. Kim on Sunday conducted his sixth test of a nuclear bomb, his most powerful yet.

Such non-proliferation agreements are typically applauded worldwide, because they involve no acts of violence and pose no major immediate risk of a wider war. They’re hailed as effective at the moment they’re signed – well before any time has passed to prove them the shams they are.

Now we know Assad’s promise to Obama that he’d not use chemical arms didn’t work. Would Israel’s much-maligned method be more successful?

A while back, one of the most admired diplomats in the non-proliferation arena, Hans Blix, told me Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak facility was a major mistake, as it gave Saddam Hussein a huge incentive to rebuild his nuclear program.

Maybe, but Saddam never again managed to get close to possessing a nuke. Imagine if he had one in the two wars America fought in Iraq. Or if Assad possessed the ultimate weapon during these last six years of war.

As the Syrian war appears to be winding up in victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah, Israel is acting to prevent them from fulfilling their vow to erase it off the map, and prevent proliferation of banned arms in the process.

Israel now must “prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response,” Yadlin tweeted, adding that Russia too may be in “opposition” to Israel’s strike. But Jerusalem has long made its red lines clear to all, including Moscow.

This week’s lesson for the knee-jerk “no military solution” crowd is clear: Daring, well-planned surgical attacks are a non-proliferation tool that should be considered where practical – especially when the alternative is a meaningless pact with an unreliable dictator.

September 9, 2017 | Comments » | 619 views

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