Stirring the Pot
Referring to the crazy neighborhood Israel lives in, Ehud Barak once called Israel a “villa in a jungle”. Ignoring the condescending message embedded into this expression, and looking at the current chaos taking place in the Middle East one has to admit there is a certain element of truth to it. Everything is relative of course, and whether Israel is a villa or a shack is a matter of perspective. An island of stability in an ocean of instability certainly.
While world attention has understandably been focused on Egypt, events in Syria and Lebanon have not been put on hold, and have continued to escalate. A few weeks ago, a series of explosions took place in the vicinity of Latakia in Syria. Interestingly enough, and contrary to the usual blaming game that accompanies mysterious explosions in the Middle East, there was complete silence from all parties involved (except the Syrian rebels who ambiguously claimed that a foreign air-force was involved).
Over the weekend, this silence was broken. The British Sunday Times reported that the attacks were made by an Israeli Dolphin submarine, and the CNN quoted sources in the Pentagon pointing a finger at the Israeli Air-Force. The fact that the target of these attacks were Syrian storage facilities holding Russian Yahont surface-to-sea cruise missiles, a weapon Israel defines as a “game-changing” weapon that it will not allow to reach Hezbollah, adds merit to the claim that Israel was involved.
Assad’s silence up until this point can be explained by the dangerous commitment he made to retaliate the next time Israel attacked, a promise he made following the airstrikes against Syrian targets in May. Not in a position to actually deliver on this promise, Assad does not want to attribute the attack to Israel. He would rather blame the Syrian rebels, and not open another front against a much more powerful foe.
Another reason for Assad’s silence, is the cloud of uncertainty surrounding this case. The mayhem in Syria and Lebanon provides ripe conditions for espionage and special operations, and has likely attracted a multitude of intelligence agencies and special ops units from all over the world. All are now stirring the pot in an effort to support the Sunni forces battling Assad and Hezbollah. Israel, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and of course Qatar, which is slowly increasing its regional influence – all are deeply involved in covert and overt operations taking place in Lebanon and Syria. Any of the countries listed above, or even some of them operating in tandem, could have been behind these explosions.
The results of this international involvement were seen in Lebanon last week, when a car exploded in the Hezbollah-controlled Dahia quarter in Beirut. This explosion was most likely orchestrated by a Sunni organization, either Lebanese or Syrian – take your pick, supported by any of the players mentioned above. The Syrian conflict has been spilling over into Lebanon for some time now, waking dormant sectarian tensions into a full-blown conflict involving Shiite, Sunni and Christian Lebanese. This attack in Hezbollah’s stronghold only cemented this fact.
There can be no doubt about the message being sent here to Hezbollah – stay out of Syria. The long term ramifications of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria are beginning to show (see Beholding Victory), pointing to a serious deterioration in the organization’s overall strategic stance in the region. It has been seriously weakened, both militarily on the battlefield in Syria (it has lost over 200 of its finest fighters), and politically inside Lebanon. Nasrallah now finds himself arguing with factions within the organization itself calling for an end to its operations aiding Assad. This pressure against Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is another reason why Assad cannot risk a conflagration against Israel – Hezbollah may not be in any position to help him out.
All of the above explain why Assad is now wishing these reports die fast. These reports may push him into a corner with no choice but to follow up on his previous promises to retaliate, an outcome detrimental to the whole region. As in the case of the airstrikes in May, one must question the motives causing the “anonymous” official sources in the Pentagon to leak out these reports.