January 31, 2013
Officially, Israel isn't talking. But in this case there is no mystery as to "who done it." Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the Israeli Air Force struck twice.
First, it hit a convey headed for Lebanon that carried anti-aircraft missiles. This highly sophisticated and portable weaponry was something that Nasrallah of Hezbollah had coveted; it would have changed the equation with regard to Israel's freedom of movement in the area -- as when we eventually do go to war with Hezbollah.
So, hurray for us. We must not, we cannot, sit still as the threats to us multiply. While the Syrian weapons of mass destruction (gas, chemical) are of major concern, there is more going on. As Assad tumbles towards collapse, he's become more inclined to turn weapons from his arsenal over to Hezbollah. The Syrian border has essentially been quiet since 1973 -- Assad has not utilized his weaponry against Israel directly. But Hezbollah -- an Iranian/Syrian proxy -- has and will undoubtedly attempt to do so again.
According to foreign press reports, the convoy had left from the Syrian town of Zabadani and was headed to the Lebanese village of An Nabi Shit; it was attacked from Syrian air space, before it crossed the border.
The weaponry was identified as Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles (pictured).
Tzachi Hanegbi, former chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, had this to say about the situation, on Army Radio:
"Israel has always said that if sophisticated weapons coming from Iran, North Korea and Russia fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would cross a red line.
"Israel's preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems, But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to. Even if there are reports about pinpoint operations, these are not significant solutions to the threat itself because we are talking about very substantial capabilities that could reach Hezbollah." (Emphasis added)
It is highly unlikely that Hanegbi spoke without official sanction -- in fact, what he has done is deliver an official message unofficially. His words are good ones. He makes clear that Israel will do what Israel must do -- something our neighbors badly need to understand. In this neighborhood, a tough stance is the most secure stance.
I hasten to point out here that Obama, who gave his word that he has Israel's back, is sitting on his hands at the moment. "Israel's preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems." However...
Hanegbi suggests, you will note, that a more substantial operation may be required.
As Danny Yatom, former Mossad head, said to YNet yesterday, "Some things are casus belli."
The second target Israel hit, and demolished, was an installation in Jamraya near Damascus that the Syrian government identified as a "research facility." Research? Well, actually, one of the "scientific research centers aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense," according to the Syrian government. The facility -- which apparently had a major role within Syrian's weaponry system -- has been identified as likely a chemical weapons manufacturing and storage site.
US officials, speaking anonymously, have indicated that the US, during meetings held at the Pentagon in the last few days, was told by Israel that the attack would be taking place.
Reportedly, there were 12 Israeli fighter jets involved, operating in three different sorties of four jets each. The planes entered Lebanese airspace and crossed over to Syria flying low just north of Mount Hermon (which is on the Golan in Israel).
Credit: Boeing Israel
Not surprisingly, the Syrians made a great deal more noise about Israel hitting their "research facility" than about the convoy. To protest the hit on the convoy is to public acknowledge transfer of weapons to Hezbollah.
Both the Russians and Hezbollah have protested the hit on the convoy however. Hezbollah referred to what had happened as "barbaric aggression" by Israel that requires world condemnation. (One must retain a sense of the ironic when reading such words.) While Russia is talking about "unprovoked attacks" that "violate the UN charter." And now Iran has gotten into the act, making diverse threats against Israel. A lot of words.
Will either Hezbollah or Syria retaliate? It's possible, certainly, and tension is high on both sides of the border. But the betting is that there will be no retaliation now, as Assad is up to his eye-balls fighting the rebels who are taking him down, and Hezbollah is invested in helping him. What is more, things did not go well for Hezbollah in its last war with Israel, and Nasrallah is going to think twice about incurring the ire of the Lebanese population again.
My own opinion, not offered lightly, is that we'll handle what we must handle. What we absolutely cannot do is sit still as Hezbollah attempts to strengthen. We have to be pro-active here.
Will there be war eventually? One way or the other, it's almost certainly coming.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Commission has received a letter from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stating that it would be installing new, more efficient centrifuges in its plant near Natanz. This will enable Iran to enrich uranium more quickly and, says Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, could be "a most unfortunate game changer," depending on how many new centrifuges are installed..
"If Iran introduces them in a large scale, the timeline for being able to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons would be significantly reduced."
Is Obama planning on having a talk with the Iranians about this, or what?
What has been of interest to me in the last 24 hours or so is the silence that has ensued with regard to the explosion, such as it was, at Fordow. With all of the conflicting reports, I know that information had come out indicating that Israeli intelligence sources confirmed that something happened there. And if these reports are reliable, then, indeed, something happened. What we will ever know about this, with certainty, is another story.
But one thing is quite clear. Whatever the success in setting back Iran's nuclear program at Fordow may have been, it obviously didn't put them out of business, as Natanz is still in operation.
The ludicrous state of the world, and what passes for diplomacy these days, was brought home to me when I read that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appealed to Syria yesterday "to stop the killing...stop the violence."
That'll do it. Assad is probably thinking of calling a halt to his war against the insurgents as we speak, in response to this plea. You think?
This was going to be a segue into other material related to the UN, just as ludicrous, but of a more serious nature. But I'm going to table it for next time, as it requires an analysis of the perverse and faulty (and indeed severely maliced) thinking that is involved.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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