Assad's Best Friend Attacks Syria
Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.—John le Carré, The Looking Glass War
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After this was revealed, the event became of little interest due to the delay; maybe this was the aim of the early informational mayhem. I was about to dismiss the entire affair, when in the early hours of February 3, Israel's Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said during the meeting of European Defense Ministers in Munich, "what happened in Syria is a proof that we mean what we say." He added "advanced weapons should not reach Lebanon." In other words, he took responsibility for the attack. Despite the time that has passed since the attack, the reports from Syria show a Bashar al-Assad who is calm and unlikely to order a retaliation on Israel anytime soon. He looked so calm that I relaxed and remembered similar events from the near past.
For many years, the Syrian-Israeli border has been Israel’s quietest border. This was disturbed recently by two violent events. On June 5, 2011, Naksa Day, the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, was commemorated. The events included demonstrations on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, mainly near the destroyed city of Quneitra and near the Druze village of Majdal Shams. The events deteriorated when IDF soldiers opened fire on civilian protesters that were legally on the Syrian side; Israeli media published pictures of the firing soldiers. Syria claims that 23 people were killed in the rally; official Syrian news agency SANA quoted Health Minister Wael al-Halki as saying the death toll included a woman and a child, adding that another 350 people suffered gunshot wounds. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said that live Israeli fire had caused casualties and UN monitors were seeking to confirm facts. The IDF said that since all the casualties were on the Syrian side of the border it was unable to provide an exact count (see Casus Belli). Syria protested but did nothing; quite strange for countries formally in war.
The second event was no less strange. On November 11, 2012, the headlines of the Hebrew media were dramatic: "IDF fires at Syria for the first time since 1973." For the first time since the Yom Kippur War, the IDF's Artillery Corps fired a missile at a Syrian mortar post in response to the firing of a 120mm mortar shell shortly before (see Israel-Syria Shooting Exposes Hidden War). Again, the sides separated as friends. After a few days of hysterical headlines, everything looked fine. In fact, since 1973, the Israeli and Syrian regimes have kept a productive silence. They use each other to frighten their populations into obedience while silently cooperating between themselves.
"If that were true, then why did the recent Israeli attack take place?"
Syria is neither Libya nor Mali. It is not a desert country that can be conquered by NATO overnight. Western generals wouldn’t be able to claim that they have defended the democratic will of the Syrian people. Two years after the Syrian Civil War started, Assad still runs the country. The rebels made remarkably little territorial gains; those were limited mainly to areas next to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. At the beginning of 2013, several reports on rebels' violence flooded the media with pictures that left no room for imagination: they are neither democratic nor Syrian. They are rapidly losing the population's support in the areas that they have conquered, though they are still fighting.
What are friends for if not for offering unconditional help in tough times? For the umpteenth-time since 1973, Israel and Syria found themselves playing on the same side. Netanyahu desperately needs an invincible enemy to hide from the social protests that forced him to call for early elections. Assad needs a coup de grâce, a death blow on the rebels. "It's a breeze," said Barak while eating a piece of cake, "don't worry, I'll fix that before leaving office." Both Netanyahu and Assad won. Netanyahu can claim to have hit a convoy of deadly weapons on its way to Hezbollah. Assad will claim that the rebels are working for Israel, and thus have no legitimacy. Barak will retire at the moment the next government is formed and is probably ready to be hit by any political ricochet of this event. "LeHayim," Netanyahu toasted. "Sorry, I don't drink," Assad answered.
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