I’ve written before about the possibility of war between Israel and Syria. It seemed to me that neither side wants a direct conflict, although a proxy war involving Hezbollah and Hamas with Syrian support is likely.
There’s another option that I did not discuss, the case of an accidental war, or what I like to call a ‘war of incompetence’ which neither side wants. Because there is a great advantage to the side that strikes first, all that’s necessary to trigger hostilities is the belief on one side that the other is about to attack. And incompetence is in generous supply on both sides.
The recent Syrian buildup near the border is dangerous because it reduces the warning time that Israel would have in the event of an actual Syrian attack, thus raising the likelihood of an Israeli preemption.
Here’s what Daniel Pipes says about the situation:
The talk of war and negotiations simultaneously points to the extraordinary instability and fluidity these days of Syrian-Israeli relations. Under severe pressure for his government’s and perhaps his personal role in the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is desperately trying to change the subject. But his ambivalence in not knowing whether to change it to war or peace showcases his limitations as a leader. As I keep saying, let’s hope he was a better ophthalmologist than he is a dictator.
As for Ehud Olmert, he proved himself to be such a terrible military chief last year in Lebanon that a Syrian intifada on the Golan Heights now looms as a real possibility. And his severe political unpopularity makes him receptive to negotiations that a stronger Israeli prime minister would scorn.
This unusual combination of circumstances makes the Damascus-Jerusalem confrontation unusually volatile. Incompetence has a way of generating unpredictability. I cannot assess the chances of war beyond saying they are worrisomely real.