Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian weapons destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia could be seen as heralding wider international involvement in Syria’s intractable
Reports of sarin gas attacks in Syria also conjure the threat of further foreign intervention. President
But Syrian President
Israel, which hasn't publicly admitted to bombing the weapons caches, appears to be confident that its airstrikes will be seen as preemptive defensive action to keep the weapons out of Hezbollah hands, not intervention on behalf of the rebels. Many of the groups fighting Assad are backed by Arab countries, Islamic political movements or armed factions that are declared enemies of Israel and would be loath to be seen as its comrades-in-arms.
As for concerns about Washington intervening militarily, its dubious decisions to go to war against Iraq and Afghanistan with the goal of regime change are likely curbing any appetite for fresh involvement in a faraway conflict, even with the reported chemical weapons use justifying more decisive action.
On Tuesday, the Alawite Syrian newspaper Al Watan reported that Assad had given a breakaway faction of Palestinian militants based in Damascus “a green light to attack Israeli targets.” Later in the day, though, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed senior member of the same group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Assad can ill afford opening a new battlefront with nuclear-armed and heavily defended Israel, as his forces are hunkered down in the third year of fighting with motley factions of jihadists and insurgents across the country.
Syrian officials have branded the Israeli airstrikes "a declaration of war," and Assad on Tuesday boasted after a meeting with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that his forces are "capable of facing Israel's ventures." Salehi warned that Israel was "playing with fire."
But few familiar with the balance of forces and domestic interests at stake in and around Syria see much risk of Israel's targeted strikes against Iranian-made Fatel-110 surface-to-surface missiles provoking a major escalation.
“Israel does not want to get involved in the Syrian conflict. But
The fall of Assad would be a serious blow to Iran and Hezbollah, Meridor noted. But the rebel groups likely to fill the power vacuum in Damascus could prove even more problematic for Israel, he said, as some are aligned with Arab countries hostile to Israel or hard-line Islamic forces that deny Israel's right to exist.
Charles Ries, a career diplomat and Middle East expert who is now vice president of Rand Corp.'s international division, described the Israeli action as "a propaganda cudgel" for the Syrian regime but unlikely to alter the course of the war.
"Assad will try to use the Israeli attack to discredit the rebels," Ries said. "He will associate them with Israel and say they're Israeli allies."
As Assad and Salehi caucused in Damascus, the chief diplomats of the erstwhile superpowers scrambled to head off any escalation or further complication of the Syrian conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State
Kerry, in remarks to reporters after the
But it remains unclear whether Moscow can compel Assad to sit down with the opposition figures he has branded "terrorists," or if Washington can convince rebel leaders to meet with the autocrat they blame for 26 months of bitter fighting that has killed about 70,000.
Lavrov said he and Kerry agreed to try to assemble the parties as soon as the end of this month, and to try to salvage as much of the so-called Geneva communique as possible. Kerry also struck a more collaborative pose with his Russian counterpart, if not one that brimmed with optimism.
"Despite different points of view, committed partners can accomplish great things together when the world needs it," Kerry said. "And this is one of those moments."