Israel’s recent attack within Syria’s borders has added a new element to the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has already claimed an estimated 60’000 lives. Early reports stated that on January 30, 2013, Israel targeted a convoy carrying a shipment of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles near the Lebanese border destined for Hezbollah. State television within Syria has since confirmed that Israel did in fact engage targets within its borders, but has denied that a military convoy was the target. Syria claims that Israeli jets have bombed a scientific research facility in Jamraya responsible for “raising the level of resistance and self-defence” of the military, resulting in a number of casualties. Israel has yet to officially comment on the incident.
Russia and Iran strongly condemned the attack, while The United States commented that Israel has the right to self-defense. Syria has sent a letter to the United Nations protesting against this breach of sovereignty and claimed Damascus “has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation.” Iran has since threatened “grave consequences for Tel Aviv”, and in the past has also stated that an attack on Syria would be seen as an attack on Iran.
What does this mean for the ongoing conflict in Syria, and what does this mean in terms of Western involvement?
This incident should not be taken lightly, as the responses by the main actors within the coming days and weeks will be an important indicator for the direction that the conflict will take.
Direct retaliation by Syria is very unlikely, as the state simply does not have the resources to attack Israel and is far too entrenched in its civil war. If Syria were to retaliate, Israel’s show of force would simply be too much for the struggling regime, leading to its defeat in the civil war. Any form of retaliation or aggression from Iran is also highly unlikely, as Iran sees an open conflict with Israel at this point in time as far too costly.
The most likely response in this situation would stem from Hezbollah, which is why Israel is currently moving Iron Dome units to it’s northern regions. Due to Syria’s weakened borders caused by civil war, the transfer of biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction from Syrian arsenals becomes more of a concern. For this reason, there is a possibility of more air strikes in order to ensure that Hezbollah, as well as other groups, do not gain access to these arms.
One must also call into question the violation of sovereignty committed by Israel in unilaterally engaging militarily within Syria’s borders. This will likely not be acted on at the United Nations, but will certainly worsen Israel’s tensions with Iran. Through this most recent display of aggression, Israel has shown that it will continue to further its interests and engage targets that it perceives as a threat, regardless of international law.
Israel thus appears closer to following through on threats to engage nuclear facilities within Iranian borders. This would result in a much larger conflict which, due to their intertwined military relationship, would in turn draw U.S. support for Israel. The responses to the recent Israeli attacks in Syria, as well as the general direction of the Syrian civil conflict in the coming months, will undoubtedly have a direct impact on the possibilities of a much larger engagement within the region.
– John McMullan
(Featured photo: Zoriah, Creative Commons, Flickr)