[News] Israel Still Angling for Attacks on Syria and Iran

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 18 11:49:25 EDT 2013

September 18, 2013

Red Lines and Green Lights

  Israel Still Angling for Attacks on Syria and Iran



President Barack Obama may have drawn his seemingly regretted "red line" 
around Syria's chemical weapons, but it was neither he nor the 
international community that turned the spotlight on their use. That 
task fell to Israel.

It was an Israeli general who claimed in April that Damascus had used 
chemical weapons, forcing Obama into an embarrassing demurral on his 
stated commitment to intervene should that happen.

According to the Israeli media, it was also Israel that provided the 
intelligence that blamed the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, for the 
latest chemical weapons attack, near Damascus on August 21, triggering 
the clamour for a US military response.

It is worth remembering that Obama's supposed "dithering" on the 
question of military action has only been accentuated by Israel's 
"daring" strikes on Syria -- at least three since the start of the year.

It looks as though Israel, while remaining largely mute about its 
interests in the civil war raging there, has been doing a great deal to 
pressure the White House into direct involvement in Syria.

That momentum appears to have been halted, for the time being at least, 
by the deal agreed at the weekend by the US and Russia to dismantle 
Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

To understand the respective views of the White House and Israel on 
attacking Syria, one needs to revisit the US-led invasion of Iraq a 
decade ago.

Israel and its ideological twin in Washington, the neoconservatives, 
rallied to the cause of toppling Saddam Hussein, believing that it 
should be the prelude to an equally devastating blow against Iran.

Israel was keen to see its two chief regional enemies weakened 
simultaneously. Saddam's Iraq had been the chief sponsor of Palestinian 
resistance against Israel. Iran, meanwhile, had begun developing a 
civilian nuclear programme that Israel feared could pave the way to an 
Iranian bomb, ending Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.

The neocons carried out the first phase of the plan, destroying Iraq, 
but then ran up against domestic opposition that blocked implementation 
of the second stage: the break-up of Iran.

The consequences are well known. As Iraq imploded into sectarian 
violence, Iran's fortunes rose. Tehran strengthened its role as regional 
sponsor of resistance against Israel -- or what became Washington's new 
"axis of evil" -- that included Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel and the US both regard Syria as the geographical "keystone" of 
that axis, as Israel's outgoing ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told 
the Jerusalem Post this week, and one that needs to be removed if Iran 
is to be isolated, weakened or attacked.

But Israel and the US drew different lessons from Iraq. Washington is 
now wary of its ground forces becoming bogged down again, as well as 
fearful of reviving a cold war confrontation with Moscow. It prefers 
instead to rely on proxies to contain and exhaust the Syrian regime.

Israel, on the other hand, understands the danger of manoeuvring its 
patron into a showdown with Damascus without ensuring this time that 
Iran is tied into the plan. Toppling Assad alone would simply add 
emboldened jihadists to the troubles on its doorstep.

Given these assessments, Israel and the US have struggled to envision a 
realistic endgame that would satisfy them both. Obama fears setting the 
region, and possibly the world, ablaze with a direct attack on Iran; 
Israel is worried about stretching its patron's patience by openly 
pushing it into another catastrophic venture to guarantee its regional 

In his interview published yesterday by the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren 
claimed that Israel had in fact been trying to oust Assad since the 
civil war erupted more than two years ago. He said Israel "always 
preferred the bad guys [jihadist groups] who weren't backed by Iran to 
the bad guys [the Assad regime] who were backed by Iran."

That seems improbable. Although the Sunni jihadist groups, some with 
links to al-Qaeda, are not natural allies for either the Shia leaders of 
Iran or Hizbollah, they would be strongly hostile to Israel. Oren's 
comments, however, do indicate the degree to which Israel's strategic 
priorities are obsessively viewed through the prism of an attack on Iran.

More likely, Israel has focused on using the civil war as a way to box 
Assad into his heartlands. That way, he becomes a less useful ally to 
Hizbollah, Iran and Russia, while the civil war keeps both his regime 
and the opposition weak.

Israel would have preferred a US strike on Syria, a goal its lobbyists 
in Washington were briefly mobilised to achieve. But the intention was 
not to remove Assad but to assert what Danny Ayalon, a former deputy 
Israeli foreign minister, referred to as "American and Israeli 
deterrence" -- code for signalling to Tehran that it was being lined up 
as the next target.

That threat now looks empty. As Silvan Shalom, a senior government 
minister, observed: "If it is impossible to do anything against little 
Syria, then certainly it's not possible against big Iran."

But the new US-Russian deal to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons can 
probably be turned to Israel's advantage, so long as Israel prevents 
attention shifting to its own likely stockpiles.

In the short term, Israel has reason to fear Assad's loss of control of 
his chemical weapons, with the danger that they pass either to the 
jihadists or to Hizbollah. The timetable for the weapons destruction 
should help to minimise those risks -- in the words of one Israeli 
commentator, it is like Israel "winning the lottery".

But Israel also suspects that Damascus is likely to procrastinate on 
disarmament. In any case, efforts to locate and destroy its chemical 
weapons in the midst of a civil war will be lengthy and difficult.

And that may provide Israel with a way back in. Soon, as Israeli 
analysts are already pointing out, Syria will be hosting international 
inspectors searching for WMD, not unlike the situation in Iraq shortly 
before the US-led invasion of 2003. Israel, it can safely be assumed, 
will quietly meddle, trying to persuade the West that Assad is not 
cooperating and that Hizbullah and Iran are implicated.

In a vein Israel may mine later, a Syrian opposition leader, Selim 
Idris, claimed at the weekend that Damascus was seeking to conceal the 
extent of its stockpiles by passing them to Lebanon and Iraq.

Obama is not the only one to have set a red line. Last year, Israel's 
prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, drew one on a cartoon bomb at the 
United Nations as he warned that the world faced an imminent existential 
threat from an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Israel still desperately wants its chief foe, Iran, crushed. And if it 
can find a way to lever the US into doing its dirty work, it will 
exploit the opening -- regardless of whether such action ramps up the 
suffering in Syria.

////*Jonathan Cook* won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for 
Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: 
Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745327540/counterpunchmaga> (Pluto 
Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human 
(Zed Books). ///His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net 

/A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi./

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