Monday, April 14, 2008

Syria and Israel, Again

Beirut during the Summer War between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006

We have not seen the announcement of "details" on the Israeli attack on a "suspected Syrian nuclear facility" which I suggested in Heads Up would be the warning sign that hostilities between Israel and Syria would begin. We touched on the topic again briefly, this time including Hamas in the equation, in Another Warning Flare.

Well, let's do a little news-stringing this morning to review the situation further. The pressure is building in the Middle East and it looks almost coordinated:

We have this from DEBKAfile, breathless as usual:

Exclusive: Another Syrian armored division masses on Israeli-Lebanese borders

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Damascus has deployed the 10th arm[or]ed corps at the Massaneh crossing of Mount Hermon. It links up with the northwestern positions the 14th division took up last month on the Syrian-Israeli border which cuts through the Hermon range...

And this from the Middle East Times:

What's going on in Syria?
by Olivier Guitta, Middle East Times

Syria has been regularly popping up in the news. In fact, recent events point to the importance of that country for the future of the Middle East. Syria's political situation may indeed have an important impact on a few countries: first of course Lebanon, second Iraq, third Israel, and finally Iran.
First, one should not underestimate Syria's potential for creating havoc on a whim by using some of the militant groups it actively supports: such as Hezbollah and Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, or Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories...

...Indeed, Assad is viewed as a weak leader who, for example, did not retaliate after Israel bombed Syria's nuclear facility back in September 2007. At the same time, Israelis have privately complained that the United States is not "allowing" them to go through with the negotiations with Assad...

And then we get this from Ynet News:

Report: Syria bracing for Israeli attack

by Roee Nahmias
Is Syria preparing for war? Qatar's al-Watan newspaper reported Monday that political and media sources in Damascus expressed concerns that war may breakout between Israel and Syria before long.

According to the report, the nationwide emergency drill held by Damascus in response to a similar drill held by Israel last week, is one of the preemptive steps taken by Syria, which is supposedly responding to reports of Israel holding strategy meeting with the US in an attempt to devise an attack on both Syria and Iran...

Wow, where to begin. We have a mix of anlayses that look calculated to prepare folks for serious trouble. DEBKAfile is always on the watch for threats to Israel and tends to exagerrate the implications of moves among the many players in the Middle East. That said, something is going on in Syria. I personally think it is probably more related to the fact that President Assad's brother-in-law is suspected of setting up Mugniyah for a hit and of playing footsie with the CIA. It's a shame he was discovered on that last point. We are going to need a strong man ready to put in place if/when the bombing of Syria begins. But DEBKAfile goes a bit further, suggesting that Syria was getting ready to move into attack mode. That is ludicrous on the face of it. In an old-fashioned showdown between armored forces, Israel wins 100 times out of 100. Syrian tanks are old. They would not have air superiority, which is a prerequisite for an armored offensive. It would be a massacre. They Syrians know it. DEBKAfile knows the Syrians know this. Very, very fishy.

And then there is the Middle East Times article painting Assad as a weak leader. Weak? This is the guy that survived the crisis that blew up with Hariri was assassinated in Lebanon, resulting in the expulsion of Syrian forces from that country. That was a huge negative blow to the regime, but Assad managed to survive and remove potential enemies while doing it. Assad is now moving against his powerful brother-in-law and has apparently managed to get him under arrest and get his people in the intel structures. The author, Guitta, has to know this. I wonder what the impetus was behind getting this article out there, which has already been picked up by at least 7 news outfits in the Middle East (according to a very unscientific scan of Google News).

And the Ynet News story - that's more standard, but also just as worrying. Israel conducts a massive 5 day drill. Syria responds with a small readiness drill of their own. Syria is painted as being the source of instability.

Somethings brewing my friends, I'm just not sure what. The reason I have been worrying so much about this recently is the potential for blowback that leads to a return to major fighting in Iraq and an attack on Iran. I've discounted the potential for an attack on Iran over the last six months or so, but the expected big diplomatic breakthrough hasn't occurred yet. I'm sure they are working on it, but the longer it drags on, the more the potential for mistakes builds.

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