Israeli analysts assume that President Bashar al- Assad will not respond to Israeli military strikes against Syria this past weekend given the possibilities of escalation and Syria’s fight against insurgent groups. The Israeli army, however, is preparing for possible retaliatory attacks which, should they occur, will be very different from the massively imbalanced attacks against Gaza to which Israelis have become accustomed in recent years.
Responding to two almost consecutive airstrikes on its territory over the weekend, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the attacks represent a “declaration of war” by Israel, adding that Syria would respond in the manner and time of its choosing.
According to Ron Ben Yshai, a security analyst with the Israeli news portal Ynet, Israel, in coordination with the US, has seized a strategic opportunity to significantly thin out Syria’s rocket cache. Ben Yshai adds that Israel’s weekend strikes were probably planned several weeks in advance, and given the final go very near the time of execution.
The question now is whether the Syrian regime, which is engaged in a bloody battle against insurgent groups, wants to open an additional front and respond to Israel’s attack?
Most Israeli analysts believe that the Syrian regime will hesitate to respond to the Israeli strikes, fearing that any response will evolve into a regional war. This perception leads Israeli analysts to believe that no Syrian response is expected. Moreover, they see the attack as taking advantage of the weak situation of a regime that is already engaged in a survival war with insurgents.
For example, Professor Moshe Maoz of the Department of Islamic Studies and the Middle East at HebrewUniversity said in an interview with Israeli press that it is unclear if it is in Assad’s interest and ability to respond. According to Maoz, the regime in Damascus is aware that a military reaction will escalate the conflict, leading to harsher attacks on the country and a regional conflict.
A similar perception was displayed in another interview with the Israeli press by Professor Dan Schueftan, head of the NationalSecurityStudiesCenter at HaifaUniversity and a visiting professor at GeorgetownUniversity in Washington. However, both Maoz and Schueftan also believe that Damascus has a motivation to respond to prove the Americans and the Israelis are a united front against a patriotic Syria, and thus to reassume a leadership place in Arab politics.
Nonetheless, following an evaluation by Israel’s army of the regional developments that culminated in this weekend’s strikes on Syria, Israel is bolstering measures in preparation for possible retaliatory rocket fire. Two Iron Dome batteries were deployed in Israel’s northern cities of Safed and Haifa while the airspace of northern Israel has been closed to civilian flights until Thursday.
The Israeli press further reports that military training in the north of the country was tripled during last year. Army battalions and brigades were moved from training areas in the south to the north, allowing troops to optimally train manoeuvre potential there or in similar topographic conditions.
Moreover, at the end of April, the Israeli army launched an extensive surprise exercise in northern Israel. During the exercise 2,000 reserve soldiers were called up – a move of a volume of soldiers that has not been seen for years. Military sources said the exercise, which tested force flexibility, practiced battle procedures in the event of an escalation in the northern arena from a new operational plan.
But the Israeli public will judge a conflict, if it erupts, by its causality count for Israel. Since the second war on Lebanon, the Israeli army and public became accustomed to military engagements in the Gaza Strip. Those engagements were judged not by their political failures, but by the fact that Israeli causalities there were minimal, tending toward zero.
Moreover, the equipment used by Israel in the Gaza attacks was tested in extreme asymmetric conditions and it failed. For example, the Iron Dome system managed to intercept only one third of Palestinian rockets. Some analysts claim the rate of interception success was smaller and may even reach just 10%. However, the failure became irrelevant due to the lack of accuracy of the equipment used by Palestinian factions.
This is not the case with Hezbollah and the Syrian army. During the last war in Lebanon the Israeli army could not achieve minimal ground successes. If Israeli provocations in Syria escalate, it is doubtful the Israeli army will perform better despite its training and preparations. It is simply not the sort of conflict with which Israelis would like to engage.
* Published by the AlternativeInformationCenter (AIC)