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Tag Archives | Golan Heights

Examining Israel’s Syria Bombing

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An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region.  Baz Ratner/Reuters

An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region. Baz Ratner/Reuters

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.

First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

The SA-17 is a capable, mid-range, anti-aircraft weapon. Designated “Grizzly” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it consists of four missiles mounted on a mobile launcher. It has a range of 30 miles, a ceiling of close to 50,000 feet, and can down anything from aircraft to cruise missiles. Introduced in 1998 as a replacement for the SA-11 “Gadfly,” the SA-17 has been sold to Egypt, Syria, Finland, China, Venezuela, India, Cyprus, Belarus, and the Ukraine. It has a bite. During the 2008 Russia-Georgian War, the SA-17 apparently downed three Russian SU-25s close support attack planes, and an ancient long-range Tupolev-22 bomber. It appears Georgia acquired the anti-aircraft system from the Ukraine without the Russians knowing about it.

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Arab Spring, Israeli Isolation

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President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team, including George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro, in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team, including George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro, in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

With the Arab uprisings gradually reconfiguring the regional political landscape, Israel is finding itself increasingly isolated. For at least a decade, Israel has identified Iran as its main strategic nemesis, but the Arab spring has rekindled simmering tensions between Israel on one hand, and Arab states as well as Turkey on the other.

The ongoing conflict within Syria could also jeopardize the implicit modus vivendi between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israel, paving the way for a potential conflict in the future. The whole Arab landscape has actually shifted: the Hezbollah faction is playing a central role in Lebanese politics; the Egyptian public is demanding a reassessment of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty; and the Jordanian government is facing growing domestic political pressure. Israel is grappling with a totally new emerging regional order. Meanwhile, Iran has continued with its nuclear enrichment, meanwhile enhancing its ballistic missile capabilities. Palestine, bolstered by growing international support, is pushing for statehood, circumventing the Israeli-dictated “peace process.”

Domestically, large demonstrations have shaken major Israeli cities, as people across the political and economic spectrum demand crucial economic and social reforms. There are also growing signs of splits within the Israeli bureaucracy over plans to attack Iran.  Therefore, unless the Netanyahu administration makes necessary changes in its policies, the country might emerge as the biggest loser of the Arab uprisings. This is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to redeem itself by pressuring Israel to make necessary compromises, re-evaluate its inhumane policies toward Gaza, and make necessary reforms before it’s too late. The clock is ticking fast.

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The Syrian Uprising: US Follow a Failed Path

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Robert Ford appears during his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Syria on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

United States ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, is quite a feisty diplomat. He shows up unannounced and uninvited at various hot spots in the country, greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm and, oftentimes, anger.  When he made a highly touted appearance in the city of Hama in July, residents reportedly greeted him with flowers. However, his appearance at the home of an opposition figure in Damascus on September 29 earned him a salvo of tomatoes and rocks from angry protesters.

Naturally - and as confirmed by various WikiLeaks cables - American diplomats don’t behave independently from the main organ of US foreign policy in Washington, the State Department. It is also safe to assume that Ford’s alleged solidarity visits throughout Syria were not intended to cater to a Syrian audience. We all know how most Syrians feel about US foreign policy in the region.

Writing in the Gallop website on June 25, 2009, Steve Crabtree described a decision by the Barack Obama administration to send a US ambassador to Syria (the first one in six years) as an “important signal that it seeks improved relations between the two countries”. One of the unstated objectives of this was to “contend with widespread anti-US sentiment among Syrians”.  According to a March 2009 poll, nearly two-thirds of Syrians (64%) have unfavorable views of the United States, and more (71%) disapprove of the US leadership. One could argue that such views are sensible, considering the US’s history of anti-Syria policies, and its lack of support for the Syrian people’s urgent call for democracy and reforms.

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Competing Narratives in Syria

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Protest against Assad’s crackdown in Hama, Syria. Source: Freedom House

There is no linear narrative capable of explaining the multifarious happenings that have gripped Syrian society in recent months. On March 23, as many as 20 peaceful protesters were killed at the hands of the Syrian regime’s security forces, and many more were wounded. Since then, the violence has escalated to such a level of brutality and savagery that can only be comparable to the regime’s infamous massacres in the city of Hama in 1982.

Listening to Syrian presidential advisor, Dr. Buthaina Shaaban – one of the most eloquent politicians in the Arab world – one would get the impression that a self-assured reform campaign is indeed underway in Syria. Her words also suggest while some of the protesters’ demands are legitimate, the crisis has been largely manufactured abroad and is being implemented at home by armed gangs bent on wrecking havoc. The aim of the protests, as often suggested by officials, is only to undermine Syria’s leadership in the region and the Arab world at large.

Indeed, Syria has championed, at least verbally, the cause of Arab resistance. It has hosted Palestinian resistance factions that refused to toe the US-Israeli line. Although these factions don’t use Damascus as a starting point for any form of violent resistance against Israel, they do enjoy a fairly free platform to communicate their ideas. Israel, which seeks to destroy all forms of Palestinian resistance, is infuriated by this freedom.  Syria has also supported the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which succeeded in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, and torpedoed Israel’s efforts at gaining political and military grounds in Lebanon in 2006.

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