What were they thinking? What were those eminent Israeli military strategists thinking when they sent an F-16 into Syrian airspace to drop munitions (according to the Syrians) and then had it drop its fuel tanks, which landed in Turkey? They got a twofer. A diplomatic incident with Syria, which they probably intended and one with an ally, which they cannot have intended. If I were the Turkish foreign minister I’d be none too pleased, even with an ally:
Turkey has asked Israel for clarification after finding two fuel tanks on its territory near the Syrian border.
The tanks allegedly belong to IAF warplanes, a diplomatic source said Saturday. Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper Saturday published photographs of what it said were fuel tanks jettisoned by Israeli F-15s sent to gather intelligence on Syrian installations near the Turkish border.
The jettisoned fuel tanks were discovered late on Thursday in the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, hours after Damascus had accused Israel of dropping munitions over its territory.
The Prime Minister’s Bureau refused to respond to the reports in the Turkish media. However, government sources noted that Israel’s envoy to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and given a diplomatic protest regarding the alleged IAF flyover of Syrian air space.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that it “took a harsh view of the invasion of Syrian air space by the IAF.” The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is expected to receive the Turkish letter of protest on Sunday and to discuss possible responses to it.
“We have asked Israel to explain what happened,” a Turkish diplomatic source told Reuters. The source said Turkish authorities were also trying to establish whether Israeli warplanes had briefly violated Turkey’s airspace.
The Hurriyet report cited unnamed “experts” as saying they believed the Israeli warplanes had jettisoned extra fuel tanks in order to escape more swiftly after Syria targeted them. A Western diplomat speaking to Reuters in Damascus on Thursday offered a similar explanation of what had occurred. Witnesses in the area of Tal al-Abiad near the Turkish border where the reported bombing happened also said they spotted several fuel tanks.
Because of Israeli military censorship we don’t know precisely what Israel’s intent was [UPDATE: see Josh Landis’ very disturbing report linked below]. This is an example of deliberate opaqueness. Let the Syrians stew in it. Let ’em wonder what we were up to. Let ’em contemplate a little action on the home front courtesy of the IAF. To me, it’s typical Israeli military overplaying of its hand. What is the point? What are you trying to prove? Do you really want a war with Syria? Do you really believe Syria wants a war with you?
Again, to me this is a perfect example of Israel running roughshod over normal military diplomatic protocols. And it knows that the Bush Administration has done at least as bad in its own dealings so it feels in no danger of even having its wrists slapped. Indeed, one can imagine Dick Cheney sitting, locked & loaded in his Situation Room watching video of the overflight and clapping his hands with glee. Why does Cheney start to look more and more like Dr. Strangelove to me every day??
Lest anyone think this is a mark of Olmert or Barak’s shrewdness or strong leadership, think again. This to me is par for the course. Just as with the Lebanon war there is no clear purpose that I can see for the action; no clear benefit; no clear strategy. Where does this lead you in any military or diplomatic context? Does the Mideast, a tinderbox as it is, need more such mischief? I’d say that an IAF general persuaded the chief of staff that it’d be useful to test out any new Syrian air defense equipment it may’ve just bought in its current campaign to boost its military preparedness. But is this the climate in which we let generals test out their toys?. If you’re the IDF I guess it is. And if you’re Ehud Olmert, you let ’em have their way.
Josh Landis’ SyriaComment says his Syrian sources and Israel reporters with whom he has contact (and who cannot report their information due to said censorship) speculate that Israel attacked a Syrian military base that may’ve been storing North Korean missiles or nuclear technology. Landis also has direct confirmation of such an attack by a local informant. This also plays into John Bolton’s saber rattling op ed in the Wall Street Journal attacking Bush policy toward North Korea. There is even speculation that the Israeli action may’ve been encouraged by the Cheney-Bolton nexus. So the neocons are not dead. Will someone not drive a stake through their hearts before they goad Israel into dropping the big one on Nantaz? If one were slightly diabolical one could even argue that the Syrian attack might be a dry run for a planned Iranian attack down the road testing world reaction to the potential use of military force.
The more I think about Josh’s coverage of this the more alarmed I become. If Israelis are comfortable with Barak and Olmert looking like the cat that swallowed the canary while speaking not a word–that’s their own lookout. Reuters even quotes the latter making this ridiculous comment:
Olmert himself was quoted as telling Israeli reporters, however, that all was well: “Do I not look relaxed?”
I’ll bet he’s relaxed. And he was probably equally relaxed the day Israel invaded Lebanon. And look how that turned out for him.
But we Americans should know what our government knows about this and what role, if any, it played. U.S. media need to start putting Cheney and his allies on the hot seat. Did Condi know about this before it happened? And why are our senators and Congress members not putting pressure on their sources to tell them what’s going on? Let’s not abdicate our responsibility and right to know. There are only too many examples of this happening in the past six years.