Syria is unlikely to retaliate against Israel (Updated)

An Israel Air Force F15

An Israel Air Force F15. For all their bluster, Israel’s enemies fear its power.

There are various news reports (one example is here) viewing the tension between Israel and Syria with alarm following the Israeli raid on (at least) a Syrian shipment of advanced antiaircraft missiles intended for Hizballah.

In the case of the 2007  bombing raid on a nuclear installation, the regime did its best to minimize reports about it, first ignoring them, then stating that Israel had bombed an empty spot in the desert, and finally admitting that something was hit, but insisting it was an unimportant military construction site.

But this time they are publicly talking about the attack and threatening Israel. Does this mean that Assad intends to retaliate?

While I could be wrong, I think it is unlikely. The situation today is considerably different than in 2007. Then, Assad was firmly in control. It was in his interest to appear as strong as possible vis-a-vis Israel. He knew that Israel would be the winner in a direct confrontation, so the most reasonable course of action was to try to minimize the loss of face.

Today, Assad is fighting for his life, against forces that he has called “terrorists,” but which include much of his own population supported by Turkey, Qatar and others. It is important to him to promote the narrative that his ‘legitimate’ regime is under attack by outsiders, rather than the one that he is bloodily suppressing a popular rebellion (the truth is that it is a bit of both).

By announcing that Syria has been attacked by the bête noir of all Arabs and Muslims, Israel, he lends credence to the image of himself as a victim of a conspiracy of outside forces.

Now would be a highly inconvenient time for Assad to fight a war with Israel, and he knows that. The real threat for Israel today comes from Iran, via Hizballah. I remain convinced that war with Hizballah is inevitable, and anything Israel does to prevent it from adding to its stock of weapons from Syria’s will pay off when it finally breaks out.

Update [4 Feb 0906 PST]: It’s interesting to note that Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu is using the affair in exactly the same way, but in reverse: he accuses Assad of having a “secret agreement” with Israel! Apparently, you  can’t go wrong in the Muslim world by associating your enemies with Israel.

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