Tel Aviv’s Fear of Military Intervention in Syria
Two years have passed since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, yet there is no sign of the crisis weakening and the neighboring countries are becoming more and more involved with its different aspects every day. What is the reason behind this issue?
Even though it represented a kind of domestic protest in the beginning, it can now be said that the Syrian crisis has been transformed into a regional and even global competition. At the regional level, Iran, Iraq, and Hezbollah on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar on the other, are determining their weight in the region. At the international level, the US and Russia challenge each other in the Security Council. The downfall of Bashar Assad’s government in Syria can, on one hand, severely weaken the resistance front, especially Iran and Hezbollah, and on the other hand, Russia will be damaged in international equations. That is why Russia has resisted against the adoption of any resolution against Syria in the Security Council. Yesterday, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, warned that the US cannot use the usage of chemical weapons as an excuse to militarily attack this country. Therefore, the crisis in Syria is not only a domestic conflict between the forces inside the country, but it has also been linked to regional and international issues.
But the continuation of this crisis can be disadvantageous to the regional and even western countries.
The issue is that following the developments which occurred in the Arab countries and the downfall of western supporters in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the West considered supporting the democratic movements in the Arab countries and benefiting from them and creating problems for the countries which are against the West. In this game, Turkey and then Egypt and Qatar aligned themselves with the West. Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran as its major competition, attempted to support the developments in Syria and turn the present shuffled balance (which had turned to the benefit of Iran with the coming to power of the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia) to Iran’s disadvantage. Qatar was also added to this game in the continuation of regional and international games. Although Jordan resisted to some extent to enter this game, recently there have been signs of Jordan’s involvement in the West’s game to create developments in Syria. Therefore, if Bashar is overthrown, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan will consider this as a regional victory for themselves; particularly Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which had proposed the Shiite Crescent, because with Bashar’s downfall, Iran and Iraq’s link with Hezbollah will be cut off. Hence, with the downfall of Bashar Assad in Syria, not only Iran but also Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah will be forced to pursue other paths in their regional and international policies. Thus, the continuation of this crisis, in case of the victory of the western-Arab front, can change the future of the region to their advantage.
Yesterday, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel’s former Defense Minister and a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of this country’s parliament claimed that Syria’s chemical weapons are gradually “being transferred into the hands of the Lebanese Hezbollah”. How would you assess this claim?
Regarding this claim, a question is raised as to what benefits the transfer of chemical weapons would have for Syria. Does Bashar Assad think that he is presently threatened and that it is better to give these weapons to Hezbollah to keep and later, when the domestic conflicts are finished, return them to Syria? Is Bashar Assad concerned that these weapons might fall in the hands of his radical opposition? Does Bashar Assad intend to allow UN inspectors to enter this country to investigate the issue of the use of chemical weapons and is he concerned that the existing weapons might create problems? Perhaps this issue can be analyzed from the point of view that Syria intends to draw the game towards Lebanon and Israel’s borders and direct the threat towards Israel by giving the weapons to Hezbollah.
Nevertheless, this is a kind of suicide and I believe that this measure has no political benefit for Syria. But if this report is correct and Bashar Assad has taken such a measure, this could create an excuse for a military intervention, because, based on the Chemical Weapons Convention, these weapons must not be used.
Thus, can it be said that the recent issue about Syria’s chemical weapons is important?
Yes, if Israel’s claim based on the usage of chemical weapons by the government of Syria, or their transfer to Hezbollah becomes a reality, the crisis in Syria would enter a new stage. Based on the transfer of chemical weapons to Lebanon and Hezbollah having them, Israel can claim that these weapons would create an immediate and critical threat against its national security; hence, it would be a good excuse for international institutions to seriously enter the Syrian crisis militarily. From this aspect, Israel might enter the scene in Syria. Israel has, hitherto, attempted to keep itself away from the Syrian crisis, but under the new conditions, its analysis might have changed. Perhaps Israel is concerned that the continuation of this crisis might lead to the growth of fundamentalism in the areas surrounding this country. If that is the case, Israel might not even wait for international organizations and other countries, for it usually enters such crises unilaterally. Israel has repeatedly entered the territories of its neighboring countries without any reaction from the international community and even Arab countries. Thus, if Israel decides to deal a blow to Hezbollah and enter Lebanon, there will be no reaction from the Arab countries. The reason is that under the present circumstances in the region, Hezbollah is on Iran’s side and the Arab countries do not mind the weakening of Hezbollah and Iran.
Is it possible that such an incident might happen?
What can be construed from Israel’s approach with regard to the crisis in Syria is that Israel has so far been unwilling to enter the crisis, because firstly the government of Bashar Assad has not hurt Israel; during the past four decades, despite the existing differences between Israel and Syria with regard to the Golan Heights, Syria has not taken any measures against Israel’s occupation. On the other hand, the future government of Syria which might be created by the present opposition of Bashar Assad might be more radical than the present government and create problems for Israel. The expanded influence of the Salafi forces and even the forces affiliated with al-Qaeda must not be ignored. On the other hand, Israel knows that by entering the Syrian crisis, the people of the Arab countries will be provoked and Bashar Assad will be considered as the hero against the historical enemy of the Arabs. This is while, at the present time, he is introduced as a dictator against the people of his country and the radical religious forces are struggling against him and this status is the best condition for Israel, wherein two of its opposing forces are in conflict with each other.
Thus, would you rule out the possibility of Israel’s involvement in this crisis?
In the crisis in Syria yes, but this issue is different from that of the Golan Heights. If artillery is launched from this region towards Israel, it will certainly lead to an expansive reaction. Israel has always shown that it does not believe in proportionate reactions and it responds to any measure in the most severely possible way. If there is unrest in the Golan Heights, it might be followed by Israel’s limited intervention in the Syrian issue.
Can Hezbollah’s entrance to the Syrian issue make Israel sensitive?
Yes, it certainly can. Israel carefully follows the developments related to Hezbollah and if it feels that weapons are being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah, it might unilaterally act upon it, or ask the UN to immediately intervene in this matter; as recently there was a report that Israeli planes had targeted a caravan which was moving from Syria towards Lebanon. There were reports that this caravan had been carrying weapons for Hezbollah. Thus, Israel entering the crisis in Syria would only be limited to removing threats with regard to the Golan Heights and Hezbollah becoming armed, and nothing more.