Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Drumbeat For Action Against Syria's Assad Grows Louder

The ongoing civil war in Syria has led to more than 100,000 dead, more than 2 million refugees situated in grim camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and the entire region is in turmoil, especially after the latest reports indicating that chemical weapons of some kind were used against civilian populations in a Damascus suburb.

It's the latest in a string of scattered incidents involving chemical weapons in the civil war that have pushed the US, France, and others to warn that they may seek military action against Bashar Assad's regime for their violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia, along with China, continues working their stalling tactics at the UN as Assad continues his brutal crackdown against rebel forces, meaning that there's little chance of an immediate military response to the chemical weapons attack that may have killed anywhere from 130 to 1,300 people.

The British are putting forth a UN resolution at the Security Council, but Assad isn't going to stop fighting his enemies on the basis of a UN resolution. Efforts by UN inspectors to figure out what actually happened were hampered by a delay in getting access to the site, coming under sniper fire, and the fact that Assad's forces had laid siege to the area with conventional artillery for days before the inspectors could get on the ground there.

With the drumbeat of war growing louder, and the possibility that airstrikes may commence tomorrow, the Jerusalem Post is warning that the Israeli homefront is not prepared for an unconventional conflict - referring to chemical weapons. There’s also reports indicating that if the UN/NATO/US hit Assad targets in Syria, that Syria would retaliate against Israel. Some Israelis aren’t sure that Assad would or wouldn’t attack.

It doesn’t matter that Israel has Iron Dome, Patriot and other missile defense systems available to it; Syria going after Israel if hit by airstrikes would open up a can of worms not seen since the 1991 Gulf War. Back then, Israel withstood the brunt of dozens of scud launches that slammed into Israel without retaliation, but would Israel do the same once again?

I’m not so sure. There are reasons that Assad wouldn’t want to enlarge the fight to include Israel out of practical reasons - if his military can barely scratch out a stalemate against rebel forces, it would suffer badly in a fight against the IDF. And Israel may well respond not only with airstrikes of its own, but could send in its Sayeret Matkal and other special forces to go after specific targets - missions that it might not have considered unless Israel was directly attacked. That’s not to say that Israel hasn’t gone after Syrian targets of opportunity before - the airstrike against the nuclear facility a few years back shows that they’ll act preemptively and with force if necessary.

But there are also reasons Assad would go after Israel - make a muddled mess and further complicate things for the rebels and the West - since affiliations/backing for various groups arrayed against Assad have different motivations and sometimes run counter to each other.

Still, airstrikes will hurt Assad, but they’ll end up having unpredictable outcomes not only for Israel, but for Lebanon, which is where Syria still exerts influence and where Assad’s proxies in Hizbullah continue to hold sway. Hizbullah is a wildcard in this, and they could again make a mess of Lebanon, to say nothing of Northern Israel.

If there’s a callup of Israeli forces, it may also be out of a concern that Hizbullah may well be planning to take the pressure off Assad by launching attacks against Israel to take media pressure off Assad and put the spotlight again on Israel.

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