Israel will not attack Syria, even though Syria continues to resupply Hezbollah with weapons from its own stockpiles and with weapons from Iran, senior Israeli officials, retired military officers, and outside experts told NewsMax.
Gideon Meir, director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, said unequivocally that his government “does not want to open another front in this war.”
Israel is well-aware of Syria’s ongoing efforts to resupply Hezbollah, and has been hitting convoys carrying rockets and other weapons from Syria to Lebanon on a daily basis, senior government officials told NewsMax in separate interviews in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
While Syria’s role in resupplying Hezbollah is clearly an act of war, “we are not looking at this from a legalistic point of view,” said a senior Israeli Military Intelligence official. “We are not looking for a casus belli with Syria.”
Syria has placed its military forces on high alert and has mobilized reservists. To avoid an accidental clash that could lead to war, “Israel has let Syria know that it has no intention of attacking Syria,” a source close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters just after the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“We have had no reaction from the Syrians. Nor has their been any decrease in Syrian arms shipments to Hezbollah,” he added. The overwhelming majority of the more than 3,000 rockets that have hit Israeli population centers over the past month have been Syrian-made, not Iranian, as some media have been reporting.
The biggest and most deadly have been 302mm rockets, which Hezbollah has dubbed the “Khaibar-1.” With an estimated range of 45 miles, they have hit Afula and Beit She’an over the past week, the deepest strikes yet by Hezbollah.
Israeli Air Force gun-camera footage of the Khaibar-1, released to the media, show a square-tubed launcher with two rows of three canisters. “This is very modern, like the U.S. and Israeli multiple-launch rocket systems,” Israeli missile defense expert, Uzi Rubin, told NewsMax. “It could be a Chinese-made WS-1, such as those sold to Iran. But it’s unlike anything I’ve seen on display in Iranian military parades.”
Far more numerous have been the Syrian-made 220mm rockets which have been hitting Haifa on a regular basis. These are packed with tens of thousands of deadly ball-bearings, and were designed to kill anyone within 150 feet of impact, Israeli police ballistics experts say.
Some in the media have confused them with Iranian-made Fajr-3 rockets, which Israel largely destroyed in air strikes during the first two days of the conflict.
“From the outset, I’ve said that Syria is part of the equation,” former minister of public security Uzi Landau told NewsMax from his home outside Tel Aviv. “They are standing behind the terror and must be made to pay a price.”
Landau, who challenged Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud party leadership last year, has emerged as a prominent critic of the government in this war, and has been pushing for military action against Syria.
“We should have made Damascus the insurance policy for Haifa – but we didn’t,” he said.
Asked on Wednesday in a follow-on interview if three weeks of war had changed his views, Landau said he believed Israel should strike Syria “now more than ever.”
Israel “must send a clear message to Damascus,” he said. “We see Syria together with Hezbollah as responsible for the bombing of Israel. Syria must pay the price. This is our chance to break the malignant axis between Syria and Iran. I’m not sure how many more chances we’ll get,” he added. One reason Israel government officials have been cautious in finger-pointing is concern that Syria may be seeking to suck them into a wider war that is not in Israel’s advantage.
“Syria has been emboldened by the mutual defense pact it signed with Iran in Tehran on June 15,” a senior Defense Ministry official told NewsMax. The June 15 agreement, which has not been widely reported in the international press, states that Iran will come to Syria’s aid if Syria is attacked. “This is the same as [President George W.] Bush’s commitment to Israel,” the official said.
“It is entirely possible that Syria may be trying to suck Israel into attacking Syria, in order to bring Iran into the conflict,” this official added. “If we hit Syria, we have war with Iran.” Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle East history at Haifa University, believe that Israel could have started the war by hitting targets in Syria, “but now it’s different.”
“If we launched against targets in Syria, they will launch an all-out war, which we can still avoid,” he told NewsMax in Haifa.
For all Syria’s bluster and its open support for Hezbollah, Baram and other analysts don’t believe Syria really wants war with Israel, or that Iran is prepared to send ground troops to defend Damascus. “If Syria attacked Israel, it would mean the end of Syria,” Baram said. “The Iranians are ready to fight until the last Syrian. And both the Iranians and the Syrians are ready to fight Israel until the last Lebanese.”
Former deputy chief of the IDF general staff, Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, told Newsmax in Haifa that war with Syria was simply unnecessary to achieve Israel’s war aims.
“Israel doesn’t need a war with Syria to achieve its goal, which is to disconnect Syria from Hezbollah and push them out of Lebanon,” he said.
“A war with Syria is one war too many,” he added. Dayan and others believe Israel should deal with Syria once this conflict reaches the diplomatic phase.
“We need to teach [Syrian president] Bashar Assad a real lesson,” one official said, on condition neither his name or government affiliation be mentioned. “But it’s much more effective to humiliate him, than to hit him militarily.”
This official pointed to the September 1, 1975 letter from President Gerald Ford to Prime Minister Rabin, after Israel’s disengagement from the Sinai peninsula, which pledges “give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.”
A similar pledge was made by George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon not long before Sharon was incapacitated with a crippling stroke in January of this year, the official added.
“We should go back to what two Republican administrations have promised Israel. If there is to be peace with Syria, then Israel should keep the Golan,” he said.
Israel has always refused to give back the Golan because whoever controls it overlooks the fertile Galilee and dominates all of northern Israel. “We don’t need to kick Bashar [Assad] now,” the official said. “But we can kick him in the final settlement with a real punishment, by keeping the Golan. That would make him pay a real price – in terms of honor, pride, and territory.”