Israeli and U.S. media confirm that Israel launched its second attack on Syrian military targets in three days. Haaretz says that both attacks were against Iranian Fateh-100 series surface-to-surface missiles and destined for its Hezbollah allies. Israel calls these weapons a “game changer,” by which they probably mean that in the last war Israel fought with Hezbollah, the latter used relatively inaccurate missiles fired into Israel which, while they caused serious damage and killed both soldiers and civilians, the new munitions would be much more lethal, accurate, and have longer range. The latest generation of Fateh 100, announced in 2012, has a 175-mile range, meaning that from southern Lebanon it could reach most of Israeli territory.
The NY Times reports based on anonymous Israel sources that the shipment bombed also contained Scud Ds which have a much longer range (over 400 miles) that could reach to Israel’s southern tip of Eilat. Possession of such weapons by Hezbollah and their use in a future conflict would induce terror in the Israeli civilian population and might make the prospect of war untenable. That’s why Israel has to ensure at all costs that its enemy doesn’t have them. The IDF expects another war with Hezbollah and wants not to have its hands tied behind its back by a public that deserts it after those Fateh-100s begin to hit Tel Aviv and Haifa.
A huge fireball lit up the Damascus skyline along with accompanying explosions around 4AM Sunday morning, which was likely the warehouse storing the weapons going up in flames.
It appears that these attacks are laying the groundwork for two future conflicts. The most certain one is with Hezbollah. Israel believes that with the potential loss of the Assad regime and Syria as a transshipment point for Iran’s advanced weapons, Hezbollah and Iran are conducting intensive and hasty weapons transfers they might otherwise be able to perform over a longer time period.
Israel’s military establishment in the past 24 hours has talked explicitly about a coming war against Hezbollah. In the neat and tidy semi-delusional world in which its military strategists live, they gave a licking to Hamas during Operation Pillar of Cloud. Next, they will take on Hezbollah. After this, they will have defanged Iran’s two most effective anti-Israel proxies. Then Israel can go after the chief prize, Iran.
Much of this may be bluff or banter. But I have little doubt that Israel is either planning for an imminent war against Hezbollah; or that one will happen through circumstances as in 2006, when Hezbollah attacked IDF forces at the border. Israel’s attacks against Syria bring the day of the next war that much closer.
Another question is how willing Israel is to get involved in Syria’s civil war. If it detects an imminent military victory by Islamist forces who might be inimical to its interests, would it be emboldened to intervene in a more muscular way–the same way it is urging the U.S. to do now? To do so, would be the height of folly for Israel. There is no better way for it to stain any potential ally than announce who it supports. It would have to find a toady like the South Lebanon Army, which did Israel’s dirty work for twenty years in that country until the IDF withdrew a decade ago. But for Israel to attempt this in Syria would mean the kiss of death to whoever it annointed.