Yesterday, Israel mounted its second attack on Latakia since July, targeting an arms depot housing Russian-made air-to-ground missiles destined for Hezbollah. A massive explosion rocked Latakia last night. Rumors began to fly that Israel might be involved. Quickly thereafter, U.S. officials confirmed to CNN that Israel was responsible. My Israeli source confirmed this news to me last night. But I wanted to wait to find out more about what was attacked and why, since he wouldn’t reveal that information to me. The missiles were fired from over the Mediterranean sea.
Sources say the missiles targeted were SA-125. This model has been available for decades and has gone through various upgrades. But Nana says that the particular missiles targeted had recently undergone an upgrade that transformed them into weapons with the capabilities of Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft system, the SA 300. The article also notes an advance in the SA 300 which allows it to be fired from movable launchers in underground bunkers. Tunnels would allow the launchers to move along a rail making it more difficult to attack.
Alex Fishman writes in Yediot that Israel is once again aghast that the U.S. “sold it down the river” by revealing the author of the strike. He claims the IDF gave the U.S. a heads-up about the attack so that it wouldn’t be embarrassed to read it first in the media. In return, the reporter says Obama sold the information “for a grush.” The goal of the administration, so he claims, was to sabotage Israeli security policy. Israel, you see doesn’t want its fingerprints on the attack so that Assad has no reason to blame it. This, Israel believes, will give him to justification for targeting Israelis with terror attacks through Hezbollah or other parties.
The thought process behind this borders on “magical thinking.” Israel believes that Assad will not blame Israel merely because there’s been no public attribution of the attack to it? Somehow Assad will be intimidated by the fact that if he or his proxies attack Israel he won’t be able to say he did it to avenge the prior Israel assault? This beggars belief.
Why should the U.S. protect Israel in this instance? What do we owe it? Israel seems to forget that there is a delicate balance of forces and interests in Syria and that our interest is not just in seeing Israel get its way when it likes. We also have to worry about the Russians and our joint effort to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons; and plan for a possible Geneva negotiation among the warring parties. We’re also interested in seeing whether we can abate the bloodbath which has taken 100,000 lives thus far. Israel, whose foreign policy seems blessedly morality-free, has none of those concerns.
The background to this latest bit of tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship is that the latter was deeply angered that Pres. Obama decided at the last minute not to attack Syria. Others like Saudi Arabia were also chagrined. I wouldn’t be surprised that Israel’s attack was an attempt to warn Obama that if he won’t cut Assad down to size that Israel is more than willing. The U.S. exposure of Israel’s responsibility might also be a tit for tat response to the attack. Israel would definitely want to destroy these weapons before they entered their underground silos where it would be much harder to destroy them.
I’m going to make a point I’ve made repeatedly in the past before: these are defensive systems designed to shoot down attacking planes. They cannot be used to attack Israel proper. So in effect Israel is invading Syrian sovereignty in order to destroy weapons that threaten Israel’s dominance over Lebanese skies and territory. Israel is protecting its own military hegemony, not defending its people or land.
Though news reports said the reason for all of these attacks has been prevention of arms transfers to Hezbollah, I also wonder whether Israel may want to degrade Bashar al Assad’s military capabilities in order to prolong the war with the Syrian rebels. As a number of right-wing analysts like Daniel Pipes have suggested, Israel’s best interests are served by the longest war possible with the greatest number of casualties (remember what I wrote about morality-free policy?). This will, in the minds of Israel’s “strategists,” keep Assad occupied so that he can’t interfere in Israel’s affairs. On the other hand, Israel doesn’t want any of the Islamist rebels to come to power either as this might wreak havoc on the stability of Israel’s northern border, which has been relatively peaceful since 1973. So, in playing this game, Israel has to maintain a delicate balance. It doesn’t want either side to win and doesn’t want its action to enable one side to defeat the other.
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.