If there’s any country that means what it says when it comes to national security issues, it’s Israel. And this week, the focus of its attention is on Syria.
Despite protests from the U.S., France, and Israel, Russia is selling missiles to the Bashar al-Assad’s regime to deter foreign intervention in the Syrian civil war. The U.S. and France might not like it from a theoretical point of view, but the missiles create a direct threat to Israel’s national security and Israel knows it. It sent top-level diplomats to Moscow as a last-ditch effort to stop the sales, but Russia continued with the plan even after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so an agreement doesn’t seem likely.
Netanyahu explained the importance of the missiles to European diplomats, saying that, if the missiles are operational in Syria, “Israel’s entire airspace will become a no-fly zone.” Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told the diplomats that Israel would strike the missiles before they became operational. Alluding to the same thing, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.”
Israel has also grown more concerned with the conflict recently due to news that Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which has been attacking Israel since the 1980s, is fighting against the rebels alongside Assad’s soldiers.
Hezbollah’s presence in Syria could give Israel motive to get involved in the conflict, which it has previously stayed relatively clear of, according to Haaretz, Israel’s premier newspaper.
These theoretically high stakes of Hezbollah’s uncharacteristic foray cannot but influence Israel’s views on the conflict in Syria. Jerusalem has hitherto wavered between two conflicting interests: stability of the Syrian state and its regime as a guarantor of chemical weapons and of Israel’s northern border vs. the value of disrupting Tehran’s regional hegemony and its supply lines to Beirut.
This equation changes, however, if Hezbollah gets sucked into the Syrian imbroglio to the degree that Assad’s defeat could also spell the death knell for Nasrallah. Israel will be sorely tempted to do whatever it can to contribute to such a potentially fatal blow to an organization that, it many ways, has been Israel’s fiercest and most implacable enemy for over 30 years.
Essentially, there are several forces working together to make action in Syria more necessary from the Israeli perspective. Israel has launched several strikes into Syria over the past few months, including two in two days earlier this month, so it’s not hard to believe that it would launch more in the future.
Then you throw in the fact that Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem said today that it would “retaliate immediately” if Israel striked again in Syria, and tensions continue to grow. It’s too early to say that the Syrian civil war will definitely expand into Israel and potentially further, but it’s certainly a possibility. As always, this is a region to be watched closely as more develops.