A number of civilians – including a child – were killed Sunday night during what is believed to have been the largest Israeli strike on military sites in Syria since that country’s civil war began more than eight years ago. Israel has said nothing about being behind the attack.
Ali Abd al-Hamad, an Egyptian political analyst who heads an organization in Cairo called the General Nasserite Conference, says the region is on the brink of a greater conflict.
All parties are trying to hold their nerve, Hamad said, “but war is inevitable.”
According to SANA, a Syrian state media organization, the Syrian air force detected the Israeli missiles, which were fired from planes in Lebanese airspace and targeted sites west of Homs and south of Damascus.
SANA reported that the Israel Air Force fired a number of rockets, killing four civilians, including a one-month-old child, and injuring 21, among them children in the town of Sahnaya, near Damascus. The agency said earlier that the shock waves severely damaged a number of homes in the town.
The strikes were mainly in an area that was controlled for years by anti-Assad rebels until last July, when Syrian and allied forces recaptured much of the country’s south.
“Israel is using its limited freedom of operation in order to demonstrate its power after its failure in the south of Syria,” says Hisham Jaber, a Lebanese military expert and former general.
Jaber explained that Israel had bet on supporting certain armed groups during the Syrian civil war, in addition to trying to establish a security strip like the one it once had in southern Lebanon, but failed on both counts.
“The survival of the Syrian state has thwarted the Israeli plans there,” he said.
Moreover, Jaber said Moscow must have approved the Israeli strikes, as Russia forbids any airplanes from entering Syrian airspace without its approval.
“Let’s not forget that Israel and Russia are allies and (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has visited Moscow more than once recently,” he explained.
Imad Awad, a Palestinian expert on Israeli affairs and head of a think tank in Jerusalem, says that Israel was applying pressure in an effort to reorder the equation in Syria in accordance with its ambitions, “taking advantage of the complicated regional situation.”
Awad added that Israel felt comfortable acting in the Syrian arena because there were multiple players involved.
“Israel has targeted Damascus more than 200 times in the past three years,” he says, adding that the Assad regime was concentrating on reestablishing its control over Syria, so it would not start a war with Israel. Moreover, he said that Moscow would not allow Iran to retaliate from Syria.
“Also, Hezbollah hasn’t and won’t attack Israel from there, as the latter would then target Lebanon,” Awad says.
A Hezbollah spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.
Israel remains concerned that Tehran is using the renewed Syrian army presence near the Israeli border as cover to establish its own military presence in the area, something Israel says it will not allow.
On June 12, Netanyahu, speaking hours after Israel allegedly fired missiles at a Syrian army base located near the border, vowed to continue to preemptively strike Iranian military targets in Syria.
“The series of challenges we are dealing with is unceasing. We will respond vigorously and with force to all attacks against us,” Netanyahu said. “However, we will not act only after the fact. We will destroy the enemy’s capabilities before the fact.”
Hamad stresses that the Arab position had deteriorated and the balance of power in the region “unfortunately” did not allow a proper response to confront the “Zionist enemy.” To that extent, he believes that Russia is protecting its interests with Israel.
As long as the Assad government is not in a position to act, he says, “Syria is forced to accept what is happening until things (in the country) completely settle down.”