Ron Ben-Yishai

Damascus' diplomatic ammunition

Syria will attempt to make propaganda profit, but it is unlikely to turn alleged infiltration of aircraft into 'casus belli'

The Syrians don’t know what they saw Wednesday night on the radar screens and what they fired at. Israel has no interest in helping them understand what they saw or didn’t see. But in such situations like the ones created this summer between Syria, Israel and Lebanon, even a small spark – or even what seems like a spark – may lead to a big fire.


It is reasonable, however, to assume that the Syrians will not turn the recent aerial incident into a catalyst for launching hostile activities against Israel, or like one of their commentators called it, "The military option."


The Syrians cannot say with certainty or prove that there was a plane or another aircraft, and they are also unable to describe the route used by that unidentified object.


This happens often as part of intelligence efforts: One side spots something – it doesn’t know exactly what it saw or what it fired at – and then sends an experimental balloon via the media, in order to be able to complete the missing details through the response.


This is probably why the IDF Spokesperson's Office says, "We do not comment on reports of this nature." Whether the Syrians saw something or did not see something, whether it was an Israeli aircraft or something belonging to another country – there is no reason why Israel should help the Syrians in their interpretation efforts, helping them improve their aerial defense system of course.


What is clear now is that in a situation of tension between two countries, each side carries out continuous surveillance efforts and intensive intelligence gathering in order to examine the other side's intentions.


Often, not only the countries experiencing the tension, but also other countries and elements with an indirect interest in what is taking place in the area of tension, are observing and exerting efforts in the area.


The fact is that what the Syrians spotted did not open fire on them, but at the most released flares when the radar closed up on it. They too understand that if there was anything there, it is reasonable to assume that it belonged to the field of intelligence gathering. Such activities are routinely carried out by Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and anyone meddling in what is happening in the region.


Looking for an excuse

What is really worrying is the Syrian information minister's declaration that his country "would find the way to respond to the Israeli infiltration." It is possible that Syria is now looking for an excuse to initiate an escalation with Israel.


We are not necessarily talking about an all-out war, but it is possible that the Syrians would like to imitate Hizbullah's harassments before the Second Lebanon War through rockets or terror attacks.


If this is in fact the Syrian information minister's intention, then in light of what is known about Israel's intentions, Damascus' calculated risk is completely wrong and may cost it dearly – for Syria as a country, as well as for Assad's regime. Therefore, if the Syrians wish to turn the incident into a "casus belli" – justification for war – it would apparently be a fatally wrong move on their part. This is at least what senior officials on the Israeli side say.


It is more likely to assume that the Syrians would try and utilize to the fullest all the propaganda profits, and might even try to use the incident as a stimulus for sticking a wedge between Israel and friendly Muslim countries in the region.


It appears that the military option, therefore, is at the moment at the bottom of the Syrian list of priorities, mainly because at the moment, Syria still does not view itself as ready for an all-out war with Israel, and understands that an unreasonable act on its part would end in exchanges of artillery fire on the Golan Heights.


Tensions in the coming days will remain high. It is possible that President Peres will find a way to send a message to the Syrian deputy president, who is also currently visiting Rome. And somehow, in a number of days, this tension will also fade away, until the next one.


פרסום ראשון: 09.06.07, 19:46
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