Saturday, May 4, 2013
Israel Targets Hezbollah Missile Shipment
For the second time this year, Israel has launched an airstrike into Syria, enforcing its own red line of not allowing game-changing weapons to reach Lebanon's Hezbollah, a heavily armed enemy of the Jewish state and an ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime. But the strike, which one Israeli official said targeted a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles, also raised new concerns that the region's most powerful military could be dragged into Syria's civil war and cause wider regional destabilization. Fighting has repeatedly crossed Syria's borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights during the two years of the Syrian civil war, while more than 1 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries. The airstrike, carried out early Friday and confirmed by US officials, occurred as Washington considers how to respond to the Syrian regime's almost certain use of chemical weapons in its civil war. President Obama has described the use of such weapons as a "red line," and the administration is weighing its options, including military action. Meanwhile, Israrl is trying to prevent sophisticated weapons from flowing from Syria to Hezbollah or other extremist groups. It is estimated that Hezbollah has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel would be prepared to take military action to prevent the Islamic militant group from obtaining new weapons that could upset the region's balance of power. Israel is concerned that Hezbollah will take advantage of the chaos in neighboring Syria to try to smuggle advanced weapons into Lebanon. These include anti-aircraft missiles, which could hamper Israel's ability to operate in Lebanese skies, and advanced Yakhont missiles that are used to launch ground attacks against naval ships. Hezbollah characterized the latest airstrike as the continuation of Israel's deterrence policy, warning that Israeli attacks could quickly lead to an escalation, leaving open the possibility of retaliation by Hezbollah or even the al-Assad regime and Syria's ally, Iran. The targeted shipment included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, according to US officials. Israeli officials have strongly hinted they carried out the airstrike, though there has not been formal confirmation. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said his militia "is ready and has its hand on the trigger" in the event of an Israeli attack on any targets in Lebanon, but details about Friday's strike remained sketchy. Much now depends on the response from Hezbollah and Syria, analysts said. But retaliation for Israeli airstrikes would come at a high price, said Moshe Maoz, an Israeli expert on Syria. Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside al-Assad's troops, appears to have linked its fate to that of the Syrian regime. Nasrallah said this week that Syria's allies "will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel." But, Hezbollah isn't Israel's only concern. Israeli officials believe it is only a matter of time before al-Assad's government collapses, and they fear that some of the Islamic extremist groups battling him will then turn their attention toward Israel. The Israeli military called up several thousand reservists earlier this week for what it called a "surprise" military exercise on its border with Lebanon. And US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is going to Moscow next week to try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to support, or at least not veto, a fresh effort to impose UN penalties on Syria if al-Assad doesn't begin political transition talks with the opposition. Russia, alongside China, has blocked US-led efforts three times at the United Nations to pressure Bashar al-Assad into stepping down. ~~~~~ It seems, dear readers, that Israel is taking steps to defend itself. Is this because it no longer believes that an America led by Barack Obama will step up to the task? Or is it because the Obama administration has agreed to the Israeli airstrikes as a camouflage of America's defense of Israel - a situation that, in either case, makes President Obama seem less willing to step up to the Syrian crisis and, therefore, seem weaker overall in the Middle East.