Op-Ed: Buzz of Israel Attacking Iran Just a Smoke Screen
The media buzz claiming Israel is preparing an attack on Iran's suspected nuclear installations has reached a fevered pitch. My information, however, indicates the Jewish state is prepping for a different war, an international effort that could potentially escalate into a direct confrontation with Iran.
If Israel were indeed on the brink of launching air raids on the mullahs, it would not first hold such a public discussion on the matter or leak to the news media the debate about the subject from within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet.
The visible Israeli military preparations, including this week's missile tests, most likely are related to the strong possibility of a U.S.-NATO-led campaign against Israel's Syrian neighbor to the north. The regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad – a key partner to Iran – has been accused of major human rights violations, including "crimes against humanity," in clamping down on a violent insurgency targeting Assad's rule. That uprising is in large part led by Muslim Brotherhood-oriented militants, some reportedly armed by Turkey.
The same "Responsibility to Protect" global doctrine used to justify the U.S.-NATO airstrikes in Libya could be applied to Assad. Responsibility to Protect, or Responsibility to Act, as cited by President Obama, is a set of principles, now backed by the United Nations, based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege but a responsibility that can be revoked if a country is accused of "war crimes," "genocide," "crimes against humanity" or "ethnic cleansing."
Mass demonstrations were held last week in Syrian insurgent strongholds calling for the international coalition in Libya to deploy in Syria. Damascus officials claimed to me that NATO troops are currently training in Turkey for a Turkish-led NATO invasion of Syria. Separately, informed Middle East security officials said Iran has been inspecting Syrian forces and has been advising Syria about possible Syrian military responses should NATO attack Assad's regime.
The same officials also said Russia recently sold Syria a large quantity of Iskander ballistic missiles and that, in light of the NATO threat, the Russian government renewed its pledge to sell Syria the advanced S-300 anti-missile system.
A Turkish-U.S.-NATO strike would have immediate implications for Israel. The Syrian president has publicly warned foreign intervention in Syria would cause an "earthquake" across the region and create another Afghanistan, while directly threatening the Jewish state.
Assad reportedly made similar comments in a meeting in early October with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmad Davutoglu. He was quoted stating, "If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv."
Assad also reportedly warned that "all these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. and European interests will be targeted simultaneously."
The Syrian president's threats are not empty. His military possesses tens of thousands of rockets and missiles capable of striking every zone within the Jewish state. The Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah is similarly armed and can rain rockets and other projectiles in a combined onslaught with Iran's proxies in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Syria's military is not entirely capable of standing up to NATO. Its strategy, therefore, is to immediately target Israel to create a wider regional offensive that would greatly complicate an international effort to dispel the Assad regime.
Iran could become directly involved in any war. Its Shiite fundamentalist influence in the region is now challenged by the Sunni-led Turkey, which is on the march, attempting to become the Islamic superpower in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Turkey is being aided in its pursuit by the Obama administration.
Iran rightly views the possibility of a Turkish-NATO effort in Syria as a thinly veiled attempt to check its own power by changing the Iranian-backed leadership in Damascus to a Muslim Brotherhood-oriented Turkish partner. If Tehran feels Syria is losing the war effort, Iran could escalate the conflict by attacking U.S. or Israeli interests. In turn, Israel or the U.S. could retaliate by striking Iran.
A "Responsibility to Protect" war in Syria likely would translate into a larger regional war, a clash of Shiite and Sunni superpowers, backed by larger international players, all seeking to remake the Middle East in their interests. Israel is wise to prepare for the possible coming storm.