What’s going on?
Classic thing about the strike on Damascus is how it will be spun by Assad. He’ll argue it’s “PROOF” he’s facing a takfiri-Zionist alliance.
— Phillip Smyth (@PhillipSmyth) May 5, 2013
— Hussain AbdulHussain (@hahussain) May 5, 2013
(More at memeorandum)
After the first attack Israel was insistent that it had not entered Syrian airspace. Whatever considerations were in play then, were, apparently, no longer operational by Sunday.
The Washington Post reports Syrian report: Israel bombs outskirts of Damascus for second time in recent days:
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said that a scientific research facility had been struck by an Israeli missile, and a banner displayed on state television said the attack was intended to relieve pressure on rebel forces in the embattled eastern suburbs. The banner was accompanied by martial music and footage of Syrian soldiers marching, descending from helicopters and firing rockets, indicating that Syria may not shrug off the assault, as it has with some Israeli strikes in the past.
“The Israeli aggression comes at a time when our armed forces are scoring victories against terrorism and al-Qaeda gangs,” state television said.
A subsequent video suggested further strikes were taking place in the same location, although the number was unclear.
The New York Times reports Israel Targeted Iranian Missiles In Syria Attack:
If true, it would be the second Israeli airstrike in Syria in two days and the third this year.
The airstrike that Israeli warplanes carried out in Syria overnight on Thursday was directed at a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles from Iran that Israel believed was intended for Hezbollah, American officials said Saturday. That strike was aimed at disrupting the arms pipeline that runs from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese organization, and it highlighted the mounting stakes for Hezbollah and Israel as Syria becomes more chaotic.
Iran and Hezbollah have both backed President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, now in its third year. But as fighting in Syria escalates, they also have a powerful interest in expediting the delivery of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in case Mr. Assad loses his grip on power and Syria ceases to be an effective channel for funneling weapons from Iran.
Israel has apparently been silent officially except to talk about the strikes in the most general terms.
Everything I’m seeing from Israeli outlets citing foreign sources. A common line, but also an indication officials are staying tight-lipped.
— Avi Mayer (@avimayer) May 5, 2013
I have confidence in the State of Israel’s power; I am confident of the Israel Defense Forces; I believe in you, the citizens of Israel.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 8, 2013
Back in February, Tony Badran reported on the contours of a secret war that Israel was carrying out against Iran.
At a conference in Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that Israel would not allow “chemical and strategic” weapons from Syria to reach Hezbollah. Netanyahu’s concern over strategic weapons in the hands of Israel’s enemies is well-founded. Since the 2006 war, Iran has aggressively moved to bolster the capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as those of its allies in Gaza. This effort has centered primarily, though by no means exclusively, around supplying Tehran’s assets with long-range rockets and ballistic missiles. The deployment of these weapons in Lebanon and Gaza would enable Iran, through Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to strike at any city in Israel, not to mention its infrastructure and sensitive facilities, including offshore gas platforms.
According to Hezbollah lore, senior Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah leaders made a decision following the 2006 war to focus on developing their missile and long-range rocket capabilities. They also decided to implement these measures in Gaza. As Qassem Qassir chronicled in a story last year, Hezbollah’s military commander, Imad Mughniyeh was at the heart of this effort, in partnership with Syrian and Palestinian military officials. Behind it all, of course, stood Iran.
Once this strategy became apparent to Israeli intelligence, it began targeting this Iranian network of strategic weapons transfers, assembly and distribution centers, and the top people running the operation. The spate of assassinated Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, and Hamas commanders since 2008 were directly involved in the Iranian network supplying strategic weapons to Tehran’s assets in the Levant.
Simon Shapira argues that there’s more going on here than a growing threat to Israel. Rather it reflects Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria. (This article was published May 2, before the Israeli strikes.):
It appears that Hizbullah’s ongoing involvement in Syria, and the extent of this involvement, formed the main issue on the agenda during Nasrallah’s visit to Tehran. The more time passes, the more Iran appears to regard Syria as a lynchpin of its Middle Eastern policy, in general, and of leading the jihad and the Islamic resistance to Israel, in particular. Hizbullah’s inclusion in the armed struggle in Syria is intended first and foremost to serve the Iranian strategy, which has been setting new goals apart from military assistance to the Syrian regime. Iran already seems to be looking beyond the regime’s survivability and preparing for a reality where it will have to operate in Syria even if Assad falls. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”5
An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran]. By preserving Syria we will be able to get back Khuzestan, but if we lose Syria we will not even be able to keep Tehran.”6 Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty. What was also clear from his remarks was that Iran cannot afford to lose Syria.
The Tower has a similar take.
U.S. and Israel’s national security interests do not align on Syria. Expect more “unilateral” action when it comes to first strike weapons.
— Michael Ross (@mrossletters) May 5, 2013
As noted Iranian missiles have been the targets of the Israeli attacks. Also of concern to Israel are chemical weapons. Apparently Syrian chemical weapons are of concern too. Eli Lake reports:
The judgment comes from top U.S. military commanders and is supported by recent intelligence community assessments, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on Syrian intelligence matters. At the heart of the concern is that the Syrian military has transferred more and more of its stock of sarin and mustard gas from storage sites to trucks where they are being moved around the country. While U.S. intelligence agencies first saw reports that Syria was moving the weapons last year, the process has accelerated since December, according to these officials. Also worrisome, said two of the officials, is intelligence from late last year that says the Syrian Scientific Research Center—an entity responsible for Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile—has begun to train irregular militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in how to use the chemical munitions.
The assessment that Syria is moving large amounts of its chemical weapons around the country on trucks means that if Obama wanted to send in U.S. soldiers to secure Syria’s stockpiles, his top generals and intelligence analysts doubt such a mission would have much success, according to the three officials. “We’ve lost track of lots of this stuff,” one U.S. official told The Daily Beast. “We just don’t know where a lot of it is.”
The large-scale movement of weapons, if it is in fact occurring, would violate one of Obama’s earliest declared red lines concerning Syria. Last August he said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.”
It appears more and more that Syria has crossed President Obama’s red lines without an American response. After the first Israeli strikes, the New York Times reported in Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria:
The evolution of the “red line” and the nine months that followed underscore the improvisational nature of Mr. Obama’s approach to one of the most vexing crises in the world, all the more striking for a president who relishes precision. Palpably reluctant to become entangled in another war in the Middle East, and well aware that most Americans oppose military action, the president has deliberately not explained what his “red line” actually is or how it would change his calculus.
“I’m not convinced it was thought through,” said Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama who is now at the Atlantic Council. “I’m worried about the broader damage to U.S. credibility if we make a statement and then come back with lawyerly language to get around it.”
While Mr. Pavel favors a more active response to the killings in Syria, others worry that Mr. Obama may have trapped himself into going too far. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, told Bloomberg Television that military involvement in Syria would risk “a large-scale disaster for the United States.”
Still President Obama supported Israel’s right to defend itself. The Tower notes:
President Barack Obama today reiterated support for actions that Israel is taking to maintain its long-established red line against the transfer of Syrian advanced weapons to terrorist groups. His statements were in reference to reports that Israel on Friday struck a Syrian missile shipment. They come amid reports that Jerusalem on Sunday conducted additional strikes against Syrian military infrastructure.
The Sunday strikes reportedly targeted Iranian weapons bound for the Iran-backed, Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah. An American official told the New York Times that the weapons were Iranian-made surface-to-surface Fateh-110 missiles. Fateh-110′s are mobile, highly accurate, solid-fuel missiles that have sufficient range to strike deep into Israel from southern Lebanon, including into Tel Aviv.
The Israelis have long maintained that Jerusalem would act to prevent either the transfer of advanced weapons to allies of the embattled Bashar al-Assad regime or the seizure of those weapons by opposition groups seeking the regime’s overthrow.
Without commenting on the credibility of reports linking Israel to Friday’s strikes, Obama emphasized that such strikes are justified.
By the way, there’s still a civil war going on in Syria.
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) May 5, 2013
In other Syria news, the Syrian Network for Human Rights puts the toll of the Ras Al-Nabaa killings at 160. Among 291 deaths today.
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) May 5, 2013