Target Damascus

Israel's involvement in Syria could escalate the civil war into a regional conflict

Ever since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel doesn't acknowledge, or deny, its precision military operations, carried out usually from air or sea. This two-pronged tactic of eliminating a threat without calling attention to itself had seen the destruction, allegedly by IDF warplanes, of what the UN suspected to be a North Korea-built nuclear reactor in eastern Syria in 2007. On Thursday night and early morning Sunday, the IDF reportedly carried out two strikes inside Syria. Reports said the targets were sophisticated weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Bashar al-Assad regime, however, accused Israel of "coordinating" with the Syrian rebels, and claimed the Sunday attack was on the Jamraya scientific research institute outside Damascus a suspected chemical weapons research facility.

The likelihood of Syria's chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands has been the focus of intervention debates. The transfer of conventional weapons anti-aircraft missiles, anti-shipping missiles, long-range ground-to-ground missiles to Hezbollah, however, is Israel's proclaimed "red line" in Syria, akin to the US red line on chemical weapons. There are grounds to suspect the use of chemical weapons, and there's evidence of Iran shipping arms to its ally Hezbollah via its other regional ally, Assad's Syria. Hezbollah fighters have also reportedly joined the civil war on Assad's side. There are concerns that, as Assad's regime crumbles, he might transfer his weapons to Hezbollah.

Notwithstanding these dangers, the risks of Israeli involvement in Syria are immense. It could escalate the civil war into a full fledged regional conflict if Hezbollah retaliates. That would be ironic, since the intent was to mitigate Hezbollah's capacity to strike. As it happens, the attacks have drawn wide regional disapproval. Time is running out for US President Barack Obama, who is perceived to be overcautious, to decide on the next course of action on Syria.

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