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Why did Israel attack Syria – If it actually did

Azhar Vadi

Israel’s announced involvement in the Syrian conflict has added a thick tomato paste to the spaghetti bowl of confusion that is present day Syria. It seems that no one really knows what is happening amid all the rubble, blood and guts that has become The Levant.

With the first news of the intrusion by Israeli fighter jets noted on Wednesday, social networking site Twitter carried tweets quoting unnamed US and regional sources saying a Syrian military convoy transporting sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to its Shia ally Hezbollah in Lebanon was hit.

The Syrian army shortly thereafter released a statement denying these claims saying that the Israeli aircraft had violated its airspace in the south of the country and hit a military research centre in the Damascus countryside.

These jets were said to have crossed the boundaries via Mount Hermon escaping radar detection by flying in low and striking the targets.

Syrian army statement via state news agencies read: “Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence. This attack came after Israel and other countries that oppose the Syrian people utilized their pawns in Syria to attack vital military locations.”

The operation was described as, “… an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building.”

The statement pointed out that two site workers were killed and five were injured.

The Israeli based Jerusalem Post however published a report by an Iraqi daily.

“Azzaman quoted a Western diplomatic source as saying Thursday that the alleged Israeli attack on Syria reported on Wednesday caused heavy casualties among special Iranian Guards stationed at the Syrian facility. The source also said that the attack took place more than 48 hours before it was reported, eventually being leaked by Israel,” the report read.

“The source for the story, who was interviewed by the paper in London, said that the report about a strike on a convoy to Lebanon was probably meant to divert attention away from the main objective of the operation, which used F-16 aircraft to fire at least eight guided missiles at the facility,” it continued.

“The source also said that the base was heavily fortified and contained experts from Russia and at least three thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who have been guarding the site for years. Many of these Iranian Guards suffered casualties.”

A spaghetti bowl of confusion indeed that’s so intense, it’s got Middle East experts like Naeem Jinnah of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, hesitant to pronounce on an analytical understanding. Are there any confirmed facts as to what happened this week in Syria with the incursion of Israeli jets?

“No there really isn’t,” he says. “This is a problem and that’s why I’m not sure why I am even doing this interview. There isn’t anything conclusive. All we have is different narratives from differing people…It’s not exactly clear what happened. What is clear is that there were Israeli planes in the air above the Syrian Lebanese border. What exactly they did and who they targeted is not exactly clear.”

If the Syrian army’s version of events is taken as true, then an interesting perspective highlighting what Israel’s deeper fear actually is could be gauged.

The Al Jazeera website quoting the Syrian statement originally run by the state news agency SANA on Wednesday evening noted, that the Israeli strike came “after terrorist groups made several failed attempts in the past months to take control of the site.” The site refers to the military research centre and the Syrian government refers to anti-government fighters terrorists. If taken as correct, could the Israeli’s have been carrying out pre-emptive strikes against Syrian military installations to prevent the technology from falling into the hands of anti-government fighters, some of who have been showing increasing tendencies towards creating an Islamic state as opposed to a secular one that would be more sympathetic to Israel and the West.

The Americans have already classified groups like Jabhat-un-Nusra as terrorist organisations with a large number of their fighters having participated in fighting against US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Roxanne Horesh, writing in February 2012 and published by Al Jazeera noted:

Although the Israeli government has been no friend of the Assad administration, policymakers in Israel maintained a “strategy of silence” towards the Syrian opposition. Given Syria’s perceived geographic vulnerability, and limited military resources, the chances of Assad leading a successful military campaign against Israel are relatively low. The Israel-Syria border has remained rather quiet since 1973. Even when the Israeli army killed 26 Palestinian protesters in June 2011, as they marched towards the border between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights, tensions did not escalate towards a potential conflict between the two states.

The Syrian regime has been hard pressed to portray all opposition groups as one synonymous fighting force supported by the US and its allies. But the rise of Jabhat-un-Nusra and others fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state has changed the game play.

Cii Middle East political analyst, Ebrahim Moosa, said the process unfolding in Syria is almost a sifting one. “Amid all the news and reports we must keep in mind, as Muslim journalists, the real truth lies in what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said and taught us. We know that Syria is a very important to Muslims and it may prove to be the oven that will bake the bricks used in returning the Ummah to its once pristine position. Those on truth will be sifted from amongst those with their own agendas.”

It’s clear that western nations have chosen to selectively support elements of the opposition.

A Reuters report quoting France’s foreign minister said Syria risks falling into the hands of Islamist militant groups if supporters of the Syrian opposition do not do more to help it in a 22-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian National Coalition has therefore been closely courted by the West and seems to have been handpicked for western support to counter this specific probability.

“Facing the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should,” foreign minister Laurent Fabius said. “We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias.”

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