Yesterday, Israel blew up a purported arms convoy on its way out of Syria. The attack, which killed at least two Syrians, was apparently aimed at stopping the weapons from falling into the hands of Israel’s enemies. Israeli officials are saying this attack is part of larger plans to counter Iran and its proxies under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was re-elected last week. If this is true the attack on Syria signals a significant escalation of Israel’s campaign against Iran and its allies in the Middle East, and a whole lot of bloodshed is likely to follow.
Details are sketchy but the convoy just outside of Damascus may have been carrying Russian Surface-to-Air missiles, the AP reported, and Israel doesn’t want those to be used against its air force in any future attack. Israel may have acted just before bad weather and cloud cover obscured the convoy’s movements.
It’s fair to ask why, amidst the civil war currently tearing Syria to pieces, anyone would want to ship weapons out of that country? And Israel would tell you that it’s Iran, using the cover of the Syrian war to help arm its nemesis in Lebanon, the Tehran-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah.
Only Israeli officials aren’t saying that. Their officials are not saying anything at all and reports of the Syria strike are so far coming only from unnamed Western diplomatic sources. But the attack, which was also confirmed by Syrian rebels, comes after Israel warned Hezbollah not to use the turmoil in Syria to try to acquire any anti-aircraft or chemical weapons that may have shaken loose in the dust-up. Much in the same way that Israel pointed its finger at Iran during the recent conflict in Gaza, in which Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets did some serious damage to areas in central Israel that hadn’t been targeted by rocket fire since the days of the Gulf War. Those rockets, Israel alleges, where at least in part smuggled through the post-Mubarak turmoil of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, which Gaza borders and in which almost 50 people have died in clashes with security forces in the last week.
Israel’s assault on Gaza last November, which took place a couple of months before national elections in Israel, was viewed by many as a thinly disguised attempt by Prime Minister Netanyahu to rally hardliners around himself ahead of the vote. Which, incidentally, he won last week, albeit with a much weaker result than was expected. Now it seems Israel is revving up the motors for another confrontation. Which Israeli officials appear to want to now call phase two in a three-stage offensive against Iran and its proxies, according to an Israeli diplomat quoted by The Telegraph, who said Hamas and Hezbollah have to be neutralised before attacking Iran. The implication being that the third phase will target Iran itself as well as promote the idea that the Gaza conflict, in which over 150 – mostly civilian – Palestinians died was always phase one in the secret war with Iran.
Now, it’s Hezbollah’s turn. So war with the foe to the north is looking a lot likelier than usual, if only judging by the number of foreign correspondents based in Jerusalem whose editors are sending them to the northern border as we speak. If war does come to pass, that would mean that every one of Israel’s neighbours except Jordan will soon be in total turmoil, putting the Jewish state in perhaps the most precarious situation it has been in in a generation. This also means peace with the Palestinians has never been a higher priority, which is exactly why Israel is likely to put peace talks right at the bottom of its to-do list and focus instead on Iran.
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