Syria’s precarious situation took yet another alarming turn following an Israeli strike on its war-ravaged territory. Twice in the past week, Israel has attacked strategic Syrian targets, claiming that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to export surface-to-surface missiles and other heavy weapons to Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terror group that Israel fought a war with in 2006. The Israeli strikes came on Friday, May 3 and Sunday, May 5 and sought only to destroy weaponry. They have not been regarded as an Israeli incursion into the bloody civil war that has ravaged Syria for nearly two years.
An Israeli official stated that the Israeli Air Force executed the attack on May 3 and had targeted advanced surface-to-surface missiles in Syria, which were allegedly bound for Hezbollah controlled territory in Lebanon. The destroyed missiles were believed to be m600s, a Syrian version of Iran’s Fatah-110 missile, which can travel roughly 300 kilometers with a half-ton warhead attached to them. Following the attack, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his belief that “the Israelis, justifiably, have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” but said little more regarding the specific attack, which he neither confirmed nor denied took place.
The second attack, on May 5, struck strategic locations roughly 15 kilometers from the Syrian-Lebanese border according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group reported that the strikes hit a Fourth Armored Division camp on Qasioun Mountain, which included an arms depot as well as a Republican Guard camp at Wadi Barada. The Israeli incursions were strongly condemned by multiple countries in the region and by the Cairo-based Arab League, which demanded United Nations Security Council intervention to stop further Israeli attacks.
The Syrian government has labeled the attacks a “flagrant violation of international law” and has also claimed that the Israeli attacks prove that the Jewish state is linked to rebel groups seeking to overthrow the Assad regime. Following the attacks, Syrian Information Minister Orman al-Zoubi stated that Syria had the right, and duty, to defend its people by all available means, but Israeli defense officials believe that Assad has little desire to open a new front with Israel while his regime crumbles internally.
This wave of external attacks poses yet another quandary for the embattled Assad regime. Should the regime fail to respond, it would look weak and would open the door to more airstrikes, yet any military retaliation against Israel could potentially drag Israel into Syria’s internal conflict. Following the attacks, Assad noted that Syria is capable of facing Israel, but stopped short of threatening retaliation. Inaction further weakens Assad’s already shaky claim to power in Damascus, with this dilemma further delegitimizing Assad’s claim to the presidency.
While retaliation against Israel remains a popular topic of discussion amongst the Syrian news media, many in the international community agree that internal strife has crippled the Assad regime’s ability wage an effective counterattack, thus making retaliation unlikely.