Why Israel Was Justified in Attacking Syria
By Joseph Klein
Binding United Nations Security Council resolutions over the last decade, including Resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1701 (2006), have called for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias in Lebanon, including in particular the disarming of the Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah. The edict has gone unheeded. These same resolutions also directed all member states to prevent the shipment of any weapons to such groups, an arms embargo which has also gone unheeded.
In fact, since Security Council Resolution 1701 passed in 2006 and ended the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah that the resolution said were started by Hezbollah, Israel has stood by and watched the re-arming of Hezbollah by Iran with the assistance of Syria. Hezbollah is now believed by Israeli Defense Force officials to have some 60,000 rockets and missiles – 10 times what it had in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Last August, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel with the use of precision rockets in Hezbollah’s possession which, Nasrallah warned, could turn the lives of “hundreds of thousands of Zionists to real hell, and we can talk about tens of thousands of dead.”
Yet the international community has not lifted a finger to enforce the terms of the Security Council resolutions requiring the disarming of Hezbollah, not to mention the embargo on further arms shipments to Hezbollah. With Syria in a virtual death spiral and more sophisticated arms on their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel saw little choice but to enforce the Security Council resolutions itself for the sake of protecting its own civilian population.
“The best thing that Israel has been hoping for a long time is that the West will take control of these weapons,” said Tzahi HaNegbi, an MP from the ruling Israeli Likud party, who is close with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “But the world is not ready to take such a decision…so Israel finds itself facing a dilemma which we alone can resolve.”
Thus, last week, after informing the Obama administration of its plans, Israel Air Force jets were reported to have bombed a convoy near Syria’s border with Lebanon, apparently targeting advanced Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah. The trucks were evidently not carrying any chemical weapons. However, Israeli officials had warned previously that it would not tolerate the transfer of any “game-changing” weapons systems to Hezbollah that could give Hezbollah the means to neutralize Israel’s military edge in conducting air operations in the event of any future conflicts with the terrorist group.
“This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,” a regional security source said according to Reuters. “Assad knows his survival depends on his military capabilities and he would not want those capabilities neutralized by Israel – so the message is this kind of transfer is simply not worth it, neither for him nor Hezbollah.”
Syrian state television meanwhile accused Israel of bombing Syria’s main military research center in Jamraya, between Damascus and the Lebanese border. Work on biological and chemical weapons is reported to have occurred at this facility.
As more evidence of what happened becomes available, it appears that Israel’s attack on the convoy carrying the SA-17 missiles and their launchers also created some damage to the military research facility. To add to the confusion, rebel sources claimed that their forces were the ones who fired on the Jamraya facility and caused damage.
The Syrian government threatened retaliation for the attack. It also sent letters of protest to the United Nations Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but did not ask specifically for an emergency meeting of the Council.
One of Iran’s deputy foreign ministers was quoted by the state PressTV network as saying that “the Israeli regime’s strike on Syria will have serious consequences for Tel Aviv.” Hezbollah, with its thousands of rockets and missiles already aimed at Israel’s population centers and seeking more arms to use against Israeli civilians, condemned the attack as “barbaric aggression.”
What was UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s first publicly stated reaction to Israel’s action to prevent the illegal transfer of yet more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah? In a press statement released by his spokesperson last week, the Secretary General noted “with grave concern reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria.” He said not a word about the imminent arms shipment to Hezbollah in continued defiance of the Security Council’s resolutions, which was the underlying reason for the strike.
Ban Ki-moon should know better. After all, in his own April 2012 “Fifteenth Semi-Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559,” the Secretary General correctly pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its enablers, particularly Iran, for the illegal re-arming of Hezbollah. He said that in several recent public pronouncements Hezbollah’s leadership had “stated that it has upgraded the strength of its military capabilities and will seek to continue to do so in blatant defiance of resolution 1559 (2004). In addition, it has disclosed publicly that, since the creation of the militia in 1982, the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided it on a regular basis with political, moral, financial and logistical support, in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions.”
Hezbollah’s “sizeable sophisticated military capabilities outside the control of the Government of Lebanon,” Ban Ki-moon reported, “creates indeed an atmosphere of intimidation” and “puts Lebanon in violation of its obligations under resolution 1559 (2004) and constitutes a threat to regional peace and stability.”
Israel’s military operation was surgical and limited in scope. It does not presage Israel’s entry into the civil war engulfing Syria. It is not violating Syria’s national sovereignty by arranging for the shipment of arms to rebels in Syria to be used to topple the regime, as Turkey is doing, for example. In fact, Turkey’s parliament last year approved a measure proposed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, giving him broad powers to send soldiers into “foreign countries” – i.e., Syria – after Turkey had already invaded Syria’s airspace.
“The negative impacts of the ongoing crisis in Syria on our national security is visible in an increasing fashion,” Erdogan said in justifying his expanded war powers. “For that reason, it has become necessary to take precaution to act in a timely and quick manner against additional risks and threats facing our country.”
Israel, to use Erdogan’s words, took “precaution to act in a timely and quick manner against additional risks and threats” to its populace. Its brief incursion into Syrian airspace was intended to block the shipment of dangerous arms out of Syria to the Hezbollah jihadists, who had menacingly warned Israelis that Hezbollah’s rockets had the capability of costing them “tens of thousands of dead.”
Yet Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hypocritically condemned Israel for doing what Erdogan claimed he had the right to do, criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for not striking back and vowed that his country would not allow Tel Aviv to attack a fellow Muslim state without retaliation.
Israel stopped its fighting with Hezbollah in 2006 upon assurances that effective steps would be taken to stop the flow of arms to Hezbollah. The opposite has occurred. Israel could no longer stand by and watch a flood of conventional and unconventional weapons leaving war-torn Syria and ending up in the hands of terrorists who had threatened to kill tens of thousands of Israelis. Israel did no more than enforce the Security Council’s own resolutions.