First Published: 2017-09-12

Israeli Strikes on Syria Heighten Fears of New War
The September 7 raids took place as Iran accelerated its strategic ambitions to expand its military power throughout Iraq and Syria, writes Ed Blanche.
Middle East Online

BEIRUT — Israel’s air strikes against military targets in central Syria, reportedly including a high-security facility linked to Damascus’ chemical weapons programme, marked a sharp escalation in the Jewish state’s bombing campaign and heralded similar attacks that could unleash a new war in the Middle East.

The strikes September 7 came shortly after the anniversary of a 2007 Israeli strike that destroyed a secret Syrian nuclear plant near the city of Deir ez-Zor close to the Iraqi border. They also coincided with the upcoming anniversary of Israel’s latest war with Hezbollah, which erupted in July 2006, in which the Lebanese fighters battled Israel’s vaunted military to a standstill — the first Arab irregulars to do so.

The latest raids took place as Iran accelerated its strategic ambitions to expand its military power throughout Iraq and Syria and complete plans for establishing at least one and possibly two land bridges between the Islamic Republic and the eastern Mediterranean that would cement Tehran’s grip on Syria.

The project has intensified Israeli fears that Iran and Hezbollah are building up military forces on the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that overlooks the Jewish state’s Galilee region.

Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence, stressed on Twitter: “The attack sent three important messages. Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms.

“Israel intends to enforce its red line despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air-defence does not prevent air strikes attributed to Israel.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iran-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”

Four Israeli warplanes carried out the pre-dawn raids. Syrian rebel sources said the targets included the al-Talal branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre near Hama and a military training facility. The United Nations said it is a key component in Syria’s production of chemical weapons.

Former Israel national security adviser Major-General Yaakov Amidror said the attack may have been triggered by a visit to Damascus by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who reportedly asked the Syrians to hand the facility over to his forces.

The raids coincided with Israel’s biggest military exercise in 20 years on its northern border, involving some 30,000 soldiers. The ten-day drill, which began September 5, was widely portrayed as a dress rehearsal for a war against Hezbollah.

The September 7 attack emphatically underlined Israeli concern that the absence of any US effort to contain Iran’s growing military presence on Israel’s volatile northern border increases the danger of open conflict between the Jewish state and Iran-Hezbollah.

Some Israeli commentators said the al-Talal raid was a sharp escalation in Israel’s intermittent air campaign — nearly 100 strikes since 2012 — aimed mainly at destroying advanced arms shipments to Hezbollah.

In recent weeks, Israel has repeatedly claimed that Iran is building underground precision missile factories for Hezbollah in Syria and even Lebanon itself, in effect establishing a high-tech arms industry for the powerful Shia movement, a key component of Tehran’s territorial expansion.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly

 

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

Trump dashes Netanyahu’s hope to move US embassy to Jerusalem

IS poses threat to Iraq one month after 'liberation'

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Bitcoin appeal beats ban and warnings in Jordan

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria

Lebanese intelligence service may be spying using smartphones worldwide

Egypt's Sisi sacks intelligence chief

Cyprus denies bail for Israeli organ trafficker

Rising Yemen currency sparks hopes of relief

Turkish ministries to investigate underage pregnancy cover-up

Iraq PM launches online appeal for election allies

Iran central bank sees claim for billions from German stock market blocked

Iraq signs deal with BP to develop Kirkuk oil fields

Israeli occupation forces raid Jenin, kill Palestinian

HRW chief says 'Nobody should be forcibly returned to Libya'

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

Saudi Arabia intercepts new Yemen rebel missile attack

Syria Kurds vow to cleanse enclave from Turkish 'scourges'

Israeli police find missing Briton’s belongings in desert

Algeria gas plant workers mark five years since jihadist siege

UN says over 5000 children killed or injured in Yemen war

European leaders’ response to Iran protests raises questions

Erdogan to visit Pope Francis next month

Iran slams US-backed 'border security force' in Syria

Palestinian suspension of Israel recognition unlikely for now

Jordan to hike fuel, bread prices

Yemen rebels free journalist detained since August

Palestinian reconciliation brings no change for Gazans

Sudan police use force, tear gas against protesters

Both hardliners and moderates have failed Iranians

Erdogan says Turkish military op in Syria's Afrin to be supported by rebels

UAE to lodge complaint over Qatar flight 'interception'

UN says 22 million Yemenis in need of aid

Minorities in north Iraq look to post-jihadist future