Mystery attack

A general view shows the Al Maysat roundabout in Damascus March 11, 2012. (REUTERS/Khaled Al-Hariri)

The “big news” in the Middle East Wednesday took place in Syria, but few people can say with absolute certainty what actually happened.

The Syrian army announced that an Israeli airstrike targeted a military research facility near Damascus.

But a number of media reports conveyed a very different tale: They maintained the Israelis struck a convoy of trucks headed across the border, carrying “game-changing” arms destined for Syria’s ally Hezbollah.

Several key players, namely Israel, Hezbollah and the United States, opted to remain silent about the incident, meaning that the field for rumor and speculation remains wide open.

The move by Syria is fully expected, since the embattled regime is keen to seize on every opportunity to tell the world that it is being targeted by an international conspiracy, and an Israeli strike against the facility in Jarmaya fits neatly into this narrative.

But the fact is the identity of the target in Wednesday’s attack is of critical importance. If it was a convoy bearing sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons for Syria’s ally Hezbollah, the immediate question is, “Why now?”

It won’t be the first time that such weapons are sent across the border, and it likely won’t be the last. If Israel believed that the cargo was of supreme importance, it would have served its own cause by announcing exactly what took place, and produced some kind of evidence to back its claims.

But if the Israelis targeted a military facility instead, again, their actions are puzzling. What exactly is transpiring at such a place, and why did they feel the need to target it at this time?

And if the Israelis are actually responsible for Wednesday’s incident, is it likely that they took the step with the knowledge of their chief ally, the United States?

One of the few certainties is that Wednesday’s military action will have potentially catastrophic repercussions if it in any way widens the scope of the war that has been raging in Syria.

It is the responsibility of states in the region and their backers to engage in a level of transparency because of the stakes involved. The U.S. or other powers have a duty to provide concrete proof either way of what took place, because there are two likely losers if the incident snowballs and leads to reactions and counter-reactions.

One of these losers is the Syrian people, who are decidedly unenthusiastic about seeing Israel enter into the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad in any way, shape or form. The other losers would be neighboring states such as Lebanon, if it is swept up into the violence because of the possible – and not yet proven – role of Hezbollah in the affair.

It is the kind of high-stakes “game” that demands several different parties – even if they don’t like it – to come clean and inform the world what exactly happened.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 31, 2013, on page 7.




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