Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Reuters/Abir Sultan.)
Make no mistake about Israel’s attack on Syria yesterday : Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is trying to force regime change in Damascus by military means.
The ostensible reason for Israel’s attack was to prevent Syria from shipping sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Let’s assume that US and Israeli intelligence had identified surface-to-air missiles in that convoy—although it’s entirely possible that there were no such missiles. Why, then, not wait until the convoy had entered Lebanese territory before attacking it? The reason: because Israel is now officially joining the anti-Assad coalition.
The aim of Israel’s attack is clearly to demonstrate that President Assad is powerless against Israeli force. That is intended to split the Syrian military, causing high-ranking officers to go over to the side of the rebels.
And it officially ties Israel to the Sunni-led Syrian revolt against Shiites (such as Hezbollah) and the quasi-Shiite, Alawite Assad government in Damascus.
But it remains to be seen what effect it will really have, and whether it will boomerang. It’s now more difficult for the rebels to condemn Assad, unless they want to be seen as allied with the Zionists.
It also comes at a hopeful moment, hopeful at least in the bleak political landscape in Syria.
Yesterday, one of the key leaders of the anti-Assad forces opened the door to talks with Assad and Co. As Joshua Landis told The New York Times :
“It is an indication of a new willingness to talk to Assad himself by the Syrian opposition. It is hard to believe that real negotiations could begin anytime soon, but the language of negotiation has been opened.”
The opening for dialogue will be resisted, naturally, by the coalition of extremists, radicals, ultra-Islamists and terrorists who’ve assembled to fight Assad, even as it is welcomed by realist-minded moderates who want to see a peaceful transition in Damascus.
The rag-bunch opposing Assad includes groups like Al Nusra, which even the United States has decided is a terrorist group. They’re imposing horrific conditions on the populations in areas they’ve “liberated,” and carrying tit-for-tat massacres of civilians. As Reuters reported :
In a small town in Syria’s east, Islamist militants have taken unclothed mannequins they see as sexually enticing out of the shops.
Members of the al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, have also prevented women from wearing trousers, preferring that they adopt the shapeless head-to-toe black veil.
The town of 54,000 on the Euphrates river offers a snapshot of what life could be like if Islamist rebels take control of significant areas of Syria as President Bashar al-Assad loses further ground.
Insurgents with long Sunni-Muslim-style beards patrol the streets enforcing a strict interpretation of Islam. Alcohol is removed from shops. Daily religious teaching is provided.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Earlier this week, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has the unpleasant task of serving as the UN’s mediator for Syria, made a strong appeal for the United States and Russia, along with the rest of the UN Security Council, to shit or get off the pot . It’s time, he said, for the UNSC to make a decision on what it means when it says it endorses a transition in Syria: Does that mean a transition with or without Assad, or something in between? That’s a critical question if and when the opposition in Syria—or the sane ones, at least—decide to participate in talks with Assad.
Meanwhile, let’s hope President Obama tells Israel to butt out.
Do Israel’s recent elections offer hope for less right-wing warmongering in the country? Don’t get your hopes up, Daniel Levy writes .