Israelis confirm air strike in Syria to prevent missile transfers to Hezbollah
posted at 10:01 am on May 4, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
You’d think that Bashar al-Assad would want to hang onto as much of his own munitions as possible, while rebels force their way to Damascus. Apparently, though, Assad has a surplus of “advanced” missiles — so much so that he wanted to share them with his buddies in Lebanon. Unfortunately for Assad and Hezbollah, the Israelis broke up the arms-trading party before it could really start swinging:
An Israeli airstrike against Syria was targeting a shipment of advanced missiles believed to be bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Israeli officials confirmed Saturday.
It was the second Israeli strike this year against Syria and the latest salvo in its long-running effort to disrupt Hezbollah’s quest to build an arsenal capable of defending against Israel’s air force and spreading destruction inside the Jewish state. …
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms that would upset the balance of power with Hezbollah were to reach the Islamic militant group.
The Israeli officials said the attack took place early Friday and was aimed at sophisticated “game-changing” weapons, but not chemical arms. One official said the target was a shipment of advanced, long-range ground-to-ground missiles but was not more specific.
Syria said it never happened, and Hezbollah won’t comment. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for the Israelis to brag about this, though. The attack has the potential to give Assad a propaganda moment to use to distract rebels into making Israel their primary enemy. Arab states have played that game since 1948, and it usually works, but the situation in Syria is probably too far gone for it to make a difference now.
No, if Israel claims the attack, it happened, and it highlights a big question in the region — Hezbollah. Its political strength in Lebanon comes almost entirely from their support from Assad and Iran, the latter of which used the former as a conduit. If Assad falls, Hezbollah will find itself cut off in Lebanon, and perhaps not too terribly popular. That’s why Hezbollah has already begun to support Assad in Syria, almost certainly in trade for the missiles it needs in case Assad falls. They may not all be aimed at Israel.
Curiously, while Assad tries to sell his arms, he’s getting more of them from his one ally in the region. And guess who else is getting Iranian arms?
Iran has significantly stepped up military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent months, solidifying its position alongside Russia as the government’s lifeline in an increasingly sectarian civil war, Western diplomats said.
Iranian weapons continue to pour into Syria from Iraq but also increasingly along other routes, including via Turkey and Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, Western officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Iraqi and Turkish officials denied the allegations.
Iran’s acceleration of support for Assad suggests the Syrian war is entering a new phase in which Iran may be trying to end the battlefield stalemate by redoubling its commitment to Assad and offering Syria’s increasingly isolated government a crucial lifeline, the envoys said.
It also highlights the growing sectarian nature of the conflict, diplomats say, with Iranian arms flowing to the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah. That group is increasingly active on the ground in Syria in support of Assad’s forces, envoys say.
The conflict has become a lot more sectarian as a result — or, perhaps, it’s just the veneer of “democratization” has been eroded to the point where the true conflict is now apparent:
“The Iranians really are supporting massively the regime,” a senior Western diplomat said this week. “They have been increasing their support for the last three, four months through Iraq’s airspace and now trucks. And the Iraqis really are looking the other way.”
“They (Iran) are playing now a crucial role,” the senior diplomat said, adding that Hezbollah was “hardly hiding the support it’s giving to the (Syrian) regime.”
He added that the Syrian civil war was becoming “more and more sectarian,” with Sunnis – an increasing number of whom come from Iraq – battling Shi’ites and members of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
Those Sunnis from Iraq are al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists, although Reuters doesn’t get around to mentioning that fact. American intervention would end up boosting AQ over Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorists and the Assad regime, nothing more, which is one big reason why we should stay out of it and let the terrorists fight amongst themselves. Perhaps that would finally discredit both movements in that region, and propel the peoples there to rise up in a real freedom movement.