As I said during the Azmi Bishara case a few months back, things just keep getting curiouser and curiouser regarding Israel’s attack on Syria last Thursday. After hearing Syria claim Israel fired missiles into the ground and Israel look like the cat that swallowed the canary while it stayed mum about the entire affair–Josh Landis notes that CNN is confirming that Israel actually did attack a Syrian military installation–possibly a missile factory or a shipment of missiles. Christiane Amanpour, who reports the story, goes on to make the astounding claim that IDF ground forces may have even been involved:
But the sources told CNN the military operation, which happened Wednesday into Thursday, may have also involved Israeli ground forces who directed the airstrike, which “left a big hole in the desert” in Syria.
Man, if that’s true this is going to be one holy mess. It’s bad enough to bomb another country. But to land ground troops there as well? Of course, the Syrians deny this but given the lies or misinformation they’ve been spreading one wonders what they know about what’s happening right under their own noses on their own territory.
The Bush Administration of course is mighty pleased with Israel flexing its muscles against one of the Axis of Evil wannabe powers. In fact, the Bushites seem to elevating Syria to North Korea status with this NY Times quotation:
One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea.
That’s right. The fact that North Korea gave or sold Syria god knows what nuclear detritus has been elevated to a “nuclear installation.” As if Syria has now become an Arab nuclear power. This nonsense has John Bolton (or maybe Dick Cheney) written all over it. Remember he’s the guy who said the Syrians and Cubans were preparing biological and chemical weapons with only a bit more evidence than Mel Gibson had when he told that Malibu cop that Jews ran the world.
The Times quotes a Bush Administration source saying:
He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.
One of those lovely government-speak phrases that often float from the lips of untrustworthy Israeli and U.S. sources who wish to insinuate that something might exist which likely doesn’t. If there were any such “evidence” both countries would be touting it in the news media as proof of North Korean-Syrian nuclear perfidy.
Don’t you just love this Times explanation of why they granted their source anonymity:
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a military action by another government.
Ah, yes we do respect Israel’s sovereignty in this matter and wouldn’t deign to do anything to step on their toes. But Syria’s sovereignty? Well, now that’s another matter entirely. Besides, this guy’s lyin’ through his teeth. Why would attaching his name to what he said be seen as impinging on Israel’s attack against Syria?
Condi Rice must be going absolutely apoplectic right about now. A week or so ago she’s touting a nuclear accord with North Korea. Then here comes Johnny Bolton and Dick Cheney pulling the rug right out from under her. She thought she was a good bureaucratic infighter. The neocons respond in true Jay Geils Band-fashion: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, baby.” They’re out to make her look like an utter fool. And what does this say about the Bush Administration? It seems like a Roman gladiatorial ring with the neocons battling to the death against the moderates. I’d say in this sort of internal chaos some of the worst damage can happen in a presidential administration. Just watch out regarding Iran. This bodes ill.
Josh thinks there still something “off” about the CNN story. And I agree. I still think that this is an opening salvo in the coming war against Iran. This is an Cheneyesque shout out to the mullahs letting them know what’s in store. I think we’re seeing the initial outline of a coordinated U.S.-Israeli military strategy that will further develop down the line. This attack tells us to expect military action against Iran; and to expect that it will either be done solely by Israel but with deep U.S. support. Or that it will be done by the U.S. and Israel with each taking a portion of the military operation.
Josh does us the service of quoting in full a pitch-perfect column in the Jerusalem Post, of all places, by Larry Derfner castigating the Israeli media for the docile approach to this important story:
For once, Israelis seem to believe that Syria is telling the truth – that Israeli jets invaded Syria’s airspace last Thursday…
The reason Israelis believe the Syrian story is because if it wasn’t true, Israel would deny it. Why would Israel deny it? Because countries aren’t supposed to fly their jets into another country’s airspace without permission. It’s considered an invasion. An act of aggression. It gives the invaded country a causus belli – a justification to strike back.
In short, it’s wrong. It’s the sort of thing that starts wars, and countries are supposed to try to avoid wars, not start them.
So Israeli leaders have nothing to say about the Syrian reports. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a wink. Everyone understands.
What’s hard to understand, though, is how the Israeli media can be so docile, so obedient, in the face of such a reckless Israeli act. I was watching Channel 2 Thursday night, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, or rather not hearing.
None of the journalists, who clearly assumed that this incident had really taken place, thought it worth mentioning that Israel had just risked starting a war with Syria. None of them challenged Israeli officials on the wisdom of this. All they talked about was what Syria might do now, whether Syria would go to war. That Israel had just provoked Syria, had just escalated the conflict, was the elephant in the newsroom that they pretended not to see.
This has been the tenor of the coverage ever since…hardly a hint about the incredible risk Israel took, about the morality of tossing a lighted match in a dry forest as this country’s leaders just did.
It’s almost surrealistic. It’s like there’s a conspiracy of silence. The people who are supposed to ask questions act as if they’ve been lobotomized. I feel a little bit like I’m living in a police state.
Here Derfner castigates Israel’s leaders for the hypocrisy of their actions:
Since Thursday, spokesmen for this country have been trying to calm everyone down, assuring everyone that Israel doesn’t want war.
What a joke. If Israel wanted to calm things down with Syria, why did it fly its jets into Syrian airspace at a time like this? If Israel doesn’t want war, why did it risk war?
Derfner here raises an important comparison to Israel’s behavior during the Lebanon war:
IT TURNS OUT that nothing has changed since last summer’s war in Lebanon. With rare exceptions, the Israeli media didn’t ask any questions then, and they aren’t asking any questions now. Same with the public. In fact, the situation seems to have gotten worse. Last summer’s war was started, after all, by Hizbullah, so even Meretz, even I supported it at first. The failure by the media and the public came later, when they didn’t ask what purpose Israel had in continuing the fighting indefinitely. Now we’ve got a situation where the country has gone mum after its leaders behaved recklessly not in self-defense, as in Lebanon, but in aggression.
I’d agree with Derfner. Though I would say that everything about the Lebanon war mirrors this action. The Israeli response was reckless, ill-prepared and ill-focused. It was the military equivalent of chest-thumping, rather than a well-executed, surgically-precise operation. The Syrian incursion promises to be more of the same. Though Israel hasn’t gone on the rampage as it did in Lebanon, it wouldn’t take much to start a bloodbath between Israel and Syria which might drag other powers into the maelstrom.
Finally, this common sense from Derfner is what is sorely lacking both in Israel and the White House right about now. Alas, there’s little hope that anyone with any say in the matter is listening or even cares what such a sensible analyst has to say, and that’s the tragedy of the situation:
We’ve set up a strict double standard for ourselves and the Arabs. We believe Israel is entitled to breach Syrian airspace, or Lebanese airspace, because – well, because they’re bad and we’re good. But if they breach ours? If Syrian jets dared fly over Israeli territory, everybody knows what would happen – we’d shoot them down without a moment’s hesitation. And afterward we’d complain to the whole world, we’d say, “You see? The Arabs are trying to kill us all, just like the Nazis.” Yet if, on the other hand, Israeli jets fly over Syria – and get away with it? Wink, wink. The little country with the big heart has done it again. Damn, we’re good.
Despite what some readers think, I’m not one of those people who blame Israel for all of the Middle East’s troubles, who think the Arabs would leave Israel alone if we’d only leave them alone. That’s a ridiculous idea. But it’s no less ridiculous to claim that Israel wants peace with its whole being and it’s only the Arabs who are preventing it. I think Thursday’s incident showed otherwise.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.