A bounty of empty threats

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2012 an Israeli Iron Dome missile is launched near the city of Be'er Sheva, southern Israel, to intercept a rocket fired from Gaza. INov. 17, 2012. An Israeli air attack reportedly staged in Syria this week may be a sign of things to come. Israeli military officials appear to have concluded that the risks in attacking Syria are worth taking when compared to the dangers of allowing sophisticated weapons to reach Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon. (AP Photo/Ahikam

Israel has no shame when it comes to attacking whatever it claims is a threat to its security, whether these targets are civilians or military in nature, wherever it wants around the Middle East.

Syria, meanwhile, has no shame in claiming in the wake of every such attack that it will choose the “time and place” of its response to violations of its national sovereignty.

The Syrian ambassador in Lebanon, Abdel-Karim Ali, said that the world could expect a “surprise” response by Damascus to what it said was an Israeli airstrike on a military research facility located between the Syrian capital and the Lebanese border Wednesday.

But the simple fact is that any type of Syrian response to the incident would come as a huge surprise.

Earlier this week, Iran said it considered any attack on Syria as tantamount to an attack on the Islamic Republic. The world will now have to wait to see if Iranian officials have decided to take a page from the book of their Syrian counterparts, namely the issuing of empty threats.

For decades, Damascus has based the legitimacy of the Baath regime on terms such as “resistance” to Israeli aggression. However, the historical record shows that Syria has preferred to avoid responding to these attacks, such as a 2007 strike on a purported nuclear facility in the Syrian desert, or the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh the following year.

If the Israelis were able to carry out such attacks in the past, one can only imagine the situation it faces these days, with Syria wracked by war.

The Jewish state has proven that it enjoys a free hand when it comes to the sovereignty of states in the region. It appears to have taken advantage, yet again, of the latest golden opportunity for it to act based on its own calculations, with little to fear in the way of a response.

In the wake of Wednesday’s strike in Syria, the White House issued a blanket response that signaled approval for Israeli actions to head off whatever it believes to be an attempt to alter the balance of power in the region.

The Israelis have called Syria’s bluff once again, and no one takes seriously the empty threats that are issued in response. Israel has set down its red lines, and has succeeded in ensuring that no one crosses them, for now.

This week’s attack on Syria might be shrouded in deliberate vagueness by one or more of the sides involved, but there are some crystal-clear repercussions for Lebanon.

It is further evidence, as if any was needed, that the dangers of the war in Syria continue to creep closer to Lebanon, and now is the time for Lebanese officials to prepare their own response. They should immediately contact countries inside and outside the region to ensure that the government’s policy of disassociation from events in Syria remains firmly in place.

Lebanese officials should also inform local factions that the country has no tolerance for getting dragged any further into the Syria crisis. National unity is the only way to fend off threats from either the east, or the south.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 01, 2013, on page 7.




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